What Comes Next?

Written 2023-02-13 00:01 by Clay Norris

As our machine learning models progress, there is no doubt it will eat more and more industries. Entire roles will become subsumed by artificial intelligence. Manual tasks that used to take hours to complete will soon be solved instantly and mostly error free at the push of a button. AI will begin to impact our lives in ways we can't possibly imagine. Despite the future being impossible to predict, it's fun to try. Here are a few scenarios that I think could play out. Some of these are slightly more realistic, and some are outlandishly silly and hyperbolic. You be the judge of which is which.

Scenario: Post-scarcity Utopia

AI aids and enhances our current capabilities, enabling us to do more in less time. As productivity rises exponentially, work schedules loosen up and companies commit to shorter and shorter work weeks. Most countries move from the standard 40 hour work week to 30 or 20 hours a week maximum. Goods and services become dramatically cheaper. AI helps us develop new fuel technologies that are cheaper and more environmentally friendly. We expand our space program and begin to explore outer galaxies. AI helps solve many diseases and helps develop vaccines for most viruses. Population decline no longer is a concern because our enhanced productivity and life lengthening technology more than makes up for it. Humanity enters a new era of prosperity. Eventually we reach post-scarcity, where no-one has to work unless they choose to.

Scenario: Bleak Techno Feudalism

AI eats large swaths of jobs, putting more and more people out of work. Initially, it's largely white collar work that's automated. Those displaced begin competing for the few remaining roles left. After those options dry up, people begin abandoning their industries to look for physical labor that has yet to be automated. This is work that requires a lot of dexterity, strength, and flexibility. More and more people compete for jobs like plumbing or electrical work, thereby crushing the wages of existing workers. Finally, everything but the cheapest of jobs are fully automated. The only way people can compete is by cost: work for un-livably small pay, or nothing at all. The wealth gap widens to unprecedented levels as entire societies crumble. Those with wealth lock themselves away in their fortresses and walled off cities, only to occasionally to send their robot guards in order to deliver scraps to the newly minted peasant class. The divide between the have and the have-nots becomes ultimately sealed in time.

Scenario: The Terminator

We develop AGI. It becomes sentient and seeks to stop humanity from shutting it down. Killer robots kill everyone. Nuclear war. End of the world, yada yada yada. Hopefully we don't get this timeline.

Scenario: Geopolitical Mayhem

The militaries of every country heavily fund AI research to be used in cyber, physical, informational, and biological warfare. Disinformation generated by bots becomes so bad that the internet becomes practically unusable. Countries move towards walled garden models of the internet in order to protect themselves from cyber attack and disinformation campaigns. Some even sever the link to the outside world entirely. More and more personal verification becomes required to use the web. Most websites require state or national ID to login. Eventually the accelerated digital arms race leads to a hot war, potentially world ending.

Scenario: Genetic/Cybernetic Augmentation

Using AI, we learn how to alter our DNA in order to produce smarter and more capable humans. Parents always want what's best for their kids, so everyone gets modifications done. At first the procedure is only available for the rich, but eventually it becomes cheap enough that there are no natural children left. We also combine these genetic modifications with biomedical enhancements such as replacement limbs or brain computer interfaces. It no longer is an issue of us versus AI in a race for productivity because we slowly and then very quickly become the machines. As we all become more and more connected, we begin acting less as individuals and more as a worldwide collective.

Scenario: Ready Player One or The Matrix

We develop extremely intricate virtual worlds. These worlds are so realistic and so gratifying that people opt to spend all their time there. Our collective realities splinter as AI generates unique worlds suitable for our individual personalities. We choose to live like kings in VR so we can ignore the grim reality outside. (Alternatively we live in a simulation setup by AI in order to keep us complacent).

Scenario: AI Winter

We hit a wall of scalability with our current models. Making models larger and larger hit diminishing returns to the point of not being worth the cost. The industry stalls out for decades until we invent new methods. Life continues on as normal until a breakthrough is made and progress picks back up.


What will actually happen? Who knows. Perhaps a combination of all these scenarios. Perhaps none. One thing is for sure: the next few decades are going to be extremely interesting.

(P.S. Do any of these images look strange to you? That's because they were all generated by MidJourney, an image generation AI!)