ITIF Search

"It's Going to Kill Us!" and Other Myths About the Future of Artificial Intelligence

June 6, 2016

Critics claim AI will produce a parade of horribles, from joblessness to our eventual doom. This report debunks such myths and explains why policymakers should actively support AI innovation.

When it comes to artificial intelligence, myths are spreading faster than the technology itself is advancing. Left unchecked, these myths could inspire fears that undermine the technology’s progress, which would be to the detriment of economic growth and social progress.

The past decade has seen important advancements in computer science that enable software systems to compile and process new information to continually improve the way they function. This improved artificial intelligence is enabling computers to become an ever more powerful and valuable complement to human capabilities: improving medical diagnoses, weather prediction, supply-chain management, transportation, and even personal choices such as where to go on vacation or what styles of clothes to buy.

Yet while artificial intelligence has become commonplace—most smartphones contain some version of AI, such as speech recognition—the public still has a poor understanding of the technology. As a result, a diverse cast of critics, driven by fear of technology, opportunism, or ignorance, has jumped into the intellectual vacuum to warn policymakers that, sooner than we think, AI will produce a parade of horribles: mass unemployment, abuse from “algorithmic bias,” the end of privacy, an atrophying of human agency, and even the destruction of humanity as “Skynet”-like machines decide the world is better off without us. Indeed, these voices have grown so loud, espousing a message that a click-hungry media eagerly amplifies, that we are very near the point where these narratives may be accepted as truth. Needless to say, when AI is so vociferously demonized (indeed, the engineering magnate Elon Musk has explicitly warned that AI could be “the demon” that threatens our existence, especially if actions are not taken to design systems that can remain under human control), there is a real risk that policymakers will seek to retard its progress.

This would be a terribly unfortunate outcome, because the truth is that AI systems are no different than shovels or tractors: They are tools in the service of humans, and we can use them to make our lives vastly better. Given the promise that innovation in AI holds for economic growth and societal advancement, it is critical that policymakers actively support its further development and use. The cost of not developing artificial intelligence, or developing it more slowly, would be enormous: lower growth in per-capita incomes, slower progress in areas such as health care and the environment, and reduced quality improvement in a wide array of public and private goods and services. This report provides a primer on artificial intelligence and debunks five prevailing myths that threaten to undermine its progress:

  1. The myth that AI will destroy most jobs;
  2. The myth that AI will make humans stupid;
  3. The myth that AI will destroy people’s privacy;
  4. The myth that AI will enable bias and abuse; and
  5. The myth that AI will eventually exterminate humanity.

Rather than give in to fear, policymakers should be doing everything possible to accelerate the progress of AI innovation.

Back to Top