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Is AI a Master or Slave?

Now that humanity is stepping over the AI threshold, we must take seriously the possibility that our development from a human civilization into a machine one will culminate in the removal of the human element altogether. Strange as it seems to us now, the other crises we have created make this outcome more likely.

BERLIN – We are living through eventful – one might even say “wild” – times, with history being made at a fast and furious pace. Why is this happening now? Because three great transformational crises have befallen humanity all at once. Each of today’s geopolitical, climatic, and digital transformations would pose enough of a challenge on its own, but we are experiencing them simultaneously. An unprecedented global mega-crisis is threatening to overwhelm our political and cultural systems’ capacities for adaptation or maintaining control.

Each passing year of record-breaking temperatures, wildfires, droughts, and extreme weather events underscores the scale of the climate crisis. Though its long-term global implications are extraordinarily complex, the basic nature of the problem is well understood. The solutions are known, but the politics for achieving them are maddeningly difficult. By contrast, the consequences of the digital transformation remain more uncertain. Just in the past year, humanity has opened a new technological door with breakthroughs in generative artificial intelligence (AI), and no one knows for sure what lies on the other side.

One big difference between these two developments is that the effects of AI could still be stopped, even reversed, at least in principle. However, one doubts that they actually will be. Both historical experience and the underlying logic of research and technological development suggest that the AI revolution will continue to gain momentum.