But we haven’t just been wrong about things we thought would come to pass; humanity also has a long history of incorrectly assuring ourselves that certain now-inescapable realities wouldn’t. The day before Leo Szilard devised the nuclear chain reaction in 1933, the great physicist Ernest Rutherford proclaimed that anyone who propounded atomic power was “talking moonshine.” Even computer industry pioneer Ken Olsen in 1977 supposedly said he didn’t foresee individuals having any use for a computer in their home.
Obviously we live in a nuclear world, and you probably have a computer or two within arm’s reach right now. In fact, it’s those computers — and the exponential advances in computing generally — that are now the subject of some of society’s most high-stakes forecasting. The conventional expectation is that ever-growing computing power will be a boon for humanity. But what if we’re wrong again? Could artificial superintelligence instead cause us great harm? Our extinction?