Growth, degrowth, and the challenge of artificial superintelligence

by   Salvador Pueyo, et al.

The implications of technological innovation for sustainability are becoming increasingly complex with information technology moving machines from being mere tools for production or objects of consumption to playing a role in economic decision making. This emerging role will acquire overwhelming importance if, as a growing body of literature suggests, artificial intelligence is underway to outperform human intelligence in most of its dimensions, thus becoming "superintelligence". Hitherto, the risks posed by this technology have been framed as a technical rather than a political challenge. With the help of a thought experiment, this paper explores the environmental and social implications of superintelligence emerging in an economy shaped by neoliberal policies. It is argued that such policies exacerbate the risk of extremely adverse impacts. The experiment also serves to highlight some serious flaws in the pursuit of economic efficiency and growth per se, and suggests that the challenge of superintelligence cannot be separated from the other major environmental and social challenges, demanding a fundamental transformation along the lines of degrowth. Crucially, with machines outperforming them in their functions, there is little reason to expect economic elites to be exempt from the threats that superintelligence would pose in a neoliberal context, which opens a door to overcoming vested interests that stand in the way of social change toward sustainability and equity.


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