Best Of: Is A.I. the Problem? Or Are We?
This past year, we’ve witnessed considerable progress in the development of artificial intelligence, from the release of the image generators like DALL-E 2 to chat bots like ChatGPT and Cicero to a flurry of self-driving cars. So this week, we’re revisiting some of our favorite conversations about the rise of A.I. and what it means for the world.
Brian Christian’s “The Alignment Problem” is the best book on the key technical and moral questions of A.I. that I’ve read. At its center is the term from which the book gets its name. “Alignment problem” originated in economics as a way to describe the fact that the systems and incentives we create often fail to align with our goals. And that’s a central worry with A.I., too: that we will create something to help us that will instead harm us, in part because we didn’t understand how it really worked or what we had actually asked it to do.
So this conversation, originally recorded in June 2021 is about the various alignment problems associated with A.I. We discuss what machine learning is and how it works, how governments and corporations are using it right now, what it has taught us about human learning, the ethics of how humans should treat sentient robots, the all-important question of how A.I. developers plan to make profits, what kinds of regulatory structures are possible when we’re dealing with algorithms we don’t really understand, the way A.I. reflects and then supercharges the inequities that exist in our society, the saddest Super Mario Bros. game I’ve ever heard of, why the problem of automation isn’t so much job loss as dignity loss and much more.
“Human-level control through deep reinforcement learning”
“Some Moral and Technical Consequences of Automation” by Norbert Wiener
"What to Expect When You're Expecting Robots" by Julie Shah and Laura Major
"Finite and Infinite Games" by James P. Carse
"How to Do Nothing" by Jenny Odell
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You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at nytimes.com/ezra-klein-podcast, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at https://www.nytimes.com/article/ezra-klein-show-book-recs.
“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld and Rogé Karma; fact-checking by Michelle Harris; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Jeff Geld; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin.