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Artificial intelligence

The real danger of AI is its power to tell stories

Our new overlords, as imagined by the Stable Diffusion AI image generator

Language is at the very heart of human culture, says Yuval Noah Harari in The Economist. Human rights, for example, are not inscribed in our DNA; they are “cultural artefacts” created by “telling stories and writing laws”. Gods, too, have no “physical reality”, but were invented through “myths and writing scriptures”. Money is perhaps the greatest story of them all: banknotes are really just “colourful pieces of paper”, valuable only because bankers and finance ministers say they are. So what happens when artificial intelligence begins to create its own stories? Or becomes better than most humans at writing laws and scriptures? AI has gained “remarkable abilities to manipulate and generate language” – and in so doing, it has hacked the “operating system” of our entire civilisation.

Previous tools like the printing press were fundamentally different to artificial intelligence, as they merely helped spread the ideas of humans. AI can take us “where no human has gone before”, weaving its own stories, and thereby forging an entirely new culture. This means the end of history as we know it. No longer will we live “inside the dreams of other humans”; we will instead be “inside the dreams of an alien intelligence”. This puts democracies in far greater danger than authoritarian regimes, because democracy is a “conversation” that relies on language. When AI hacks that language, we cannot have “meaningful conversations”. Our only hope is regulation. We need to “regulate AI before it regulates us”.