2041: yes, the machines will come for us

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In summary, machines will annihilate millions of jobs in the coming years, but AI will also generate new jobs that we cannot even imagine today.

Text by Pyr Marcondes. Originally published in Meio & Mensagem.

It’s not going to be an easy read.

2041 is a brilliant book about how artificial intelligence will radically change everything in our lives on the planet.

The authors, both Chinese, are Kai-Fu Lee, a scientist, mega-investor from Silicon Valley, a deep connoisseur and developer of AI; and Chen Qiufan, a subtle and sophisticated master of science fiction narrative, also a solid connoisseur of AI.

The two met while working in tech at Google.

The idea for the book came from Kai-Fu. He suggested the major themes, both discussed the focus and message, and Chen wrote.

There are ten chapters, each one about an aspect of how AI will be in 2041.

I won’t mention them all because the list is immense, but there are there, with deep technical treatment and scientific knowledge, along with elaborate prose, ten fictional stories of a near future, imminently real, followed by tech-sociological analyses by Kai-Fu: deep learning, big data, computer vision, convolutional neural networks, deep fakes, generative adversarial networks (and here we see where possibly GPT-5 and its developments may lead), natural language processing, robotics, augmented, virtual, and mixed reality, quantum computing, blockchain… and so on.

In a general overview, in the view of the two authors, practically all the bad things we project today about AI will happen. But both are optimistic. They believe that AI itself will solve the problems it inevitably will cause.

I will focus only on chapter eight here, “Job Savior”, about the tragedy of employment in an AI-driven economy.

In summary, let’s not deceive ourselves: machines will annihilate millions of jobs in the coming years.

AI will also generate new jobs that we cannot even imagine today. But the balance, over time, is disastrously negative for human beings.

Machines and algorithms, the book warns us, will dominate almost everything. AI will surpass humans in 80% of the disciplines and activities of societies. And, in many cases, it will perform operations unintelligible to us.

As Kai-Fu alarmingly warns us, AI will not only promote mass unemployment but as a result, it will also cause serious social problems such as depression, suicides, drug abuse, even greater increase in social inequality (another point clearly emphasized by the authors), and social unrest.

As the authors believe, Sapiens Intelligence made a mess, AI cleans up the mess.

But the way out, they emphasize, is excruciatingly difficult. Possible, but judging by human history so far, challengingly improbable.

The three main possibilities we have (along with hundreds of other supporting ones) are (the synthesis and choice, although inspired by them, are mine):

  1. First, regulation and incentive. Regulation alone won’t work without incentive. Globally, international entities and governments create a marketplace with incentives for companies to develop AIs that address the looming employment crisis and workforce. The marketplace provides solutions, and the market absorbs the workforce;
  2. Along the same lines, and in the same marketplace, international organizations and governments also incentivize companies in retraining and preparing, on a global scale, the workforce for changes, preparing them technologically in disciplines and activities with higher likelihood of survival or even future demand expansion;
  3. Universal Basic Income (UBI). Global economies united in a common bank, pooling together giant financial resources to ensure a basic minimum income for the inevitable millions of unemployed. It’s not a solution: it’s the admission of human capitulation, in the face of overwhelming machine supremacy. And humanitarian aid to the victims.

Recently, the World Economic Forum published a study creating the basis for structuring, operationalizing, and regulating digital central banks (very soon, they will all be) and their tokenized national currencies (everyone will have theirs, Brazil already has Drex). All economies will operate integrated on blockchain under common norms and conducts. Therefore, from a fiscal, financial, and technological infrastructure perspective, the bank and the marketplace I propose have their first bases already pre-viable.

AI can undoubtedly solve the challenge of work, as well as global warming, recurring pandemics, international systemic health crisis and hunger, and other concerns and challenges of contemporary humanity.

In these cases, Sapiens Intelligence made a mess, AI cleans up the mess.

We are living on the threshold of a huge astonishment. Let’s see what history has in store for us.

Text by Pyr Marcondes. Originally published in Meio & Mensagem.


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