MANY DIFFERENT KINDS OF technologies, from nanotechnology to biotechnology, promise to dramatically change human life. But of all these potentially revolutionizing technologies, the most important for social governance is artificial intelligence (AI), because AI is an information technology. As a result, the development of machine intelligence can directly improve governance, because progress in AI can help in assessing policy consequences. More substantial machine intelligence can process data, generate hypotheses about the effects of past policy, and simulate the world to predict the effects of future policy. Thus, it is more important to formulate a correct policy toward AI than toward any other rapidly advancing technology, because that policy will help advance beneficial policies in all other areas.
The holy grail of AI is so-called strong AI, defined as a general purpose intelligence that approximates that of humans. Strong AI has the capacity to improve itself, leading rapidly to machines of greater-than-human intelligence. More concretely, it raises dramatic possibilities of very substantial benefits and dangers, from the prospect of a machine-enabled utopia to that of a machine-ruled despotism.
Fortunately, the correct policy for AI—substantial government support for Friendly AI—both promotes AI as an instrument of collective decision making and helps prevent the risk of machine takeover. Friendly AI can be defined broadly as the category of AI that will not ultimately prove dangerous to humans.1 The benefits of supporting Friendly AI are twofold. First, the creation of Friendly AI is the best and probably only way of forestalling unfriendly AI, because Friendly AI can prove a crucial ally to humanity in its efforts to prevent the rise of dangerous machines. Second, government support is justified on the wholly independent grounds of improving social decision making. Even if strong AI is not realized for decades, progress in AI can aid in the gathering and analysis of data for evaluating the consequences of social policy, including policy toward other transformative technologies.