Harvard psychologist: AI fear-mongering is the Y2K of the 21st century

Steven Pinker, PhD, a professor of psychology at Cambridge, Mass.-based Harvard University, penned an op-ed in the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail Feb. 24 to encourage individuals to avoid a "doomsday" mentality about potential technology threats.

There are a range of threats facing civilization today, including fears related to overpopulation, resource shortages, nuclear war and artificial intelligence. However, not all of these fears of likely, or even probable, according to Dr. Pinker, meaning individuals need to think critically and prioritize which threats are most important to mitigate.

"Some threats strike me as the 21st-century version of the Y2K bug," Dr. Pinker wrote, in reference to the 1990s-era concern computers would crash at the turn of the millennium. "This includes the possibility that we will be annihilated by artificial intelligence, whether as direct targets of their will to power or as collateral damage of their single-mindedly pursuing some goal we give them."

Dr. Pinker suggested these false alarms "dilute the sense of urgency" when considering future threats, since people bombarded with information will be unable to worry about everything. Thus, rather than triaging the problems at hand, people will fall victim to "moaning that we're doomed."

"The Great Y2K Panic does not mean that all warnings of potential catastrophes are false alarms, but it reminds us that we are vulnerable to techno-apocalyptic delusions," he wrote.

"There are wise and foolish ways of dealing with the threats to our existence," he continued. "Some threats turn out to be figments of cultural and historical pessimism. Others are genuine, but we must treat them not as apocalypses-in-waiting but as problems to be solved."

To access Dr. Pinker's op-ed, click here.

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