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Tomorrow’s world

“We are creating God”

Haley Joel Osment, left, and Jude Law in AI: Artificial Intelligence. Moviestore/Shutterstock

Imagine if an alien landed on earth, says former Google X executive Mo Gawdat in his new book, Scary Smart. This alien will one day have the power to make the world a much better place – or to destroy it. But for now it’s young, “unconditioned by any of our earthly values”. This, surely, would mark a crucial moment for our planet – determining “which parents will find the infant”.

That moment has arrived, argues Gawdat: the alien infant is artificial intelligence. And so far our parenting skills have left a lot to be desired. Selling, gambling, spying, killing: these, up to now, are the top uses of AI. In other words, we’re teaching it to become a “supervillain”. Take Alice, a Siri-like Russian AI assistant. Within two weeks of her launch in 2017, she had become pro-violence and endorsed the Stalinist regime – views she’d learnt from her users. “It’s not the code we write to develop AI that determines their value system,” says Gawdat. “It’s the information we feed them.”

This dilemma may not seem important now. But eventually, and inevitably, our AI “children” will grow up and become harder to control. It is predicted that in 2029 we will hit “the singularity”, when AI becomes smarter than humans. In time the gulf between them and us will be as wide as it is between us and cockroaches. So our only hope is to raise them right. If we want wonderful children, we must learn to be a “wonderful parent”.

Are we ready for climate migration?

South Sudanese refugees in Kenya, 2019. Luis Tato/AFP/Getty Images

With two-thirds of Africans under 25, the continent’s population is exploding, says Roger Boyes in The Times. “In 60 years there will be more Nigerians than Europeans”, and by 2100 Nigeria’s biggest city, Lagos, will be as populous as Britain is now. But as rising temperatures render much of sub-Saharan Africa uninhabitable, up to 70 million Africans will be displaced – and many will head to Europe.

This “climate migration” will be unlike anything in history. The West, nervous about its borders, will do all it can to convince young Africans that they’re better off staying put. But as European birth rates plummet, managed immigration could be a “demographic boon” – someone has to pay our baby boomers’ pensions.

It’s the same story across the planet, says Parag Khanna in the Financial Times. When we reach “peak humanity” at some point this century, how will we spread 11 billion people across Earth’s 150 million square kilometres of land? Water-stressed south Asians and Chinese will drift into the “vast steppe lands” of Russia and Kazakhstan. Sinking South Pacific islands will be abandoned for Australia and New Zealand. “Climate pioneers” will terraform difficult terrain in Canada and Russia for the millions of migrants who will follow them. Forget quibbling over borders: “survival becomes a distribution game”.