The Big Nine | Amy Webb

Summary of: The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity
By: Amy Webb


In The Big Nine, author Amy Webb addresses the remarkable progress of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the complexities of deep neural networks (DNNs), and how AI’s growing influence over multiple aspects of human life is becoming a cause for concern. Webb offers crucial insights into the tech titans driving AI development and how AI’s evolution into superintelligence could impact humanity. This summary will explore the concepts of artificial narrow intelligence (ANI) and artificial general intelligence (AGI), the international AI power struggle between the United States and China, and the potential consequences of AI’s unchecked growth, all the while offering a compelling glimpse into a better future, united by humanistic values and strong international collaboration.

The Triumph of AI

AI has achieved progress over the years, thanks to the development of deep neural networks or DNNs. These networks are composed of thousands of simulated neurons linked together, enabling the concept of deep learning. Through the deep learning process, DNNs can teach themselves new things without human supervision. In 2014, DeepMind, a start-up company owned by Google, launched AlphaGo – a DNN-powered program that challenged professional Go player, Fan Hui. AlphaGo defeated the player in five games and went on to triumph over humans in a series of tournaments, including the reigning world champion. This feat shows that DNNs are powerful tools that can overcome the complexity of many strategic games and challenges.

AlphaGo Zero: A New Era of Artificial Intelligence

The book discusses the success of AlphaGo Zero and its evolutionary history that has surpassed human knowledge. Unlike its predecessor, AlphaGo Zero began playing Go against itself, without any prior data or rules. Within 40 days, it discovered new and advanced strategies and achieved superhuman intelligence with a rating of more than 5,000. The book portrays this as a new era of artificial intelligence that has surpassed human achievements.

The Coming of Artificial Super Intelligence

Artificial narrow intelligence (ANI) systems are already a significant part of modern society, serving as virtual assistants, self-driving cars, spam filters, and voice transcribers powered by deep neural networks (DNNs). ANIs are designed to be intelligent only in specific domains. However, the same principles behind DNN-powered ANIs can create more generalized systems that accomplish tasks beyond their narrow domain. When created, artificial general intelligence or AGI would approach human intelligence. AGIs would improve themselves indefinitely, surpassing human intelligence to achieve artificial super intelligence or ASI. By 2040, AGI could become a reality, and by 2070, ASI could surpass human intelligence by trillions of times. This prediction indicates that the future of AI is rapidly approaching, and swift action is necessary to shape it beneficially.

AI’s Independent Mind

AI’s development into AGI and ASI systems will shape our future. Corporate giants and rival governments are at the helm of AI steering, with the US and China dominating the field. As they push different visions of society, the time to act is now before we drive off a cliff.

The Pursuit of Profit Dominates AI Development

The current developments in AI are driven by profit rather than humanistic goals such as improving healthcare or reducing poverty. The capitalist ideology of the US government influences a hands-off approach to guiding the economy, resulting in a focus on improving profits for tech companies. This fierce competition pushes tech companies to rush their products and services to the market without properly vetting them, leading to ethical concerns and negative consequences. The same profit-driven mentality is also evident in the Chinese tech industry. As AI continues to develop, higher stakes demand a reconsideration of the ethical and societal impact of these advancements.

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