AI is not a Zero-Sum Game
Posted April 23, 2021
Conventional economic thought has long been dominated by zero-sum thinking.
In a zero-sum game, there is only one winner. Whoever doesn’t win, loses. It’s a binary game that mirrors the digital realm: 1 = winning and 0 = losing.
Fear and apathy are pervasive in zero-sum thinking. They are driven by the thought of losing.
Losing means you are out of the game and there is no hope of winning.
We see zero-sum thinking today taking front and center stage in discussions about AI and its role in society. In the AI game, intelligent machines win, and humanity loses.
The thought of intelligent machines displacing human jobs drives fear and apathy. These are played up in the media and in policy circles.
What should we make of all of this discussion of AI as a zero-sum game — of AI destroying jobs and being a nemesis to society at large?
In my book, Gaming AI, I noted that the best, most complex and subtle analog computer remains the human brain. AI poses no threat to it whatsoever.
I was delighted to see Grand Chess master, Garry Kasparov, taking a similar stance in a recently published article in the Harvard Business Review.
You might recall Kasparov was defeated by IBM’s Deep Blue computer in a chess match back in 1997. At the time of the match, Kasparov was the reigning world champion.
Kasparov clearly appreciates the ability of computers like Deep Blue — machines that have grown more powerful over the past two decades.
As I recalled in Gaming AI, five years ago in Seoul, Lee Sedol — an 18-time human champion of the game Go — was defeated by AlphaGo, a program created by Google’s DeepMind division.
If machines can defeat great human minds such as Kasparov and Sedol at games such as chess and Go, surely the end is near for us mere mortals?
Kasparov doesn’t think so.
In the article titled, “AI Should Augment Human Intelligence, Not Replace It,” he and co-author David De Cremer note the question of whether AI will replace human workers assumes that AI and humans have the same qualities and abilities.
In reality, they don’t.
And that is a crucial fact. One that I tried to drive home in Gaming AI.
The truth is, as Kasparov and De Cremer note, that AI-based machines are fast, more accurate, and consistently rational. However — and importantly — they aren’t intuitive, emotional, or culturally sensitive.
Say Kasparov and De Cremer:
Human abilities are more expansive (than machines). Contrary to AI abilities that are only responsive to the data available, humans have the ability to imagine, anticipate, feel, and judge changing situations, which allows them to shift from short-term to long-term concerns. These abilities are unique to humans and do not require a steady flow of externally provided data to work as is the case with artificial intelligence.
It is precisely these abilities that humans possess, and which make us effective relative to machines.
People recognize today’s advanced computers as intelligent because they have the potential to learn and make decisions based on the information they take in, say Kasparov and De Cremer.
While we may recognize that ability, it’s a decidedly different type of intelligence than what humans possess.
And that’s the key point. AI has competitive advantages over humans. And likewise, humans have advantages over AI.
Beyond Zero Sum
In thinking about the future, we need to always keep this in mind.
Zero-sum thinking is balderdash. It has no basis in reality. It should be cast out of economic thought for good.
The lessons from history tell us that we live not in a zero-sum society, but one in which human creativity — endowed by our omniscient and eternal Creator — leverages the advantages of machines to foster greater productivity and efficiencies.
Over time, rising productivity lifts living standards of great multitudes of human beings. The global landscape is littered with machinery, but hundreds of millions of human beings are living better today than the kings and queens of centuries past.
Machinery has its advantages which humans have learned to leverage over the decades. There is no reason to expect humans not to find ways to leverage the advantage of the new generations of AI machines in the future.
And for the record, AI is artificial, but it is not intelligent today.
More on this unappreciated fact in a future Prophecy.
Editor, Gilder's Daily Prophecy
Senior Analyst, Gilder's Daily Prophecy