The Age of AI: And Our Human Future by Henry A. Kissinger, Eric Schmidt, and Daniel Huttenlocher. Little, Brown and Company, 2021, 272 pp.
The Age of AI: And Our Human Future by Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt, and Daniel Huttenlocher is a fascinating exploration of the intersection between technical artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities and social science. It presents the reader with a central question: How will artificial intelligence change human experience? This unique approach allows the reader to explore AI with a broad perspective that challenges traditional beliefs and engages the reader with examples of how AI has already affected humans' daily lives and will do so in the future to a greater extent. In other words, the book's premise is that AI fundamentally transforms society, unlike any other technology in history, as it performs human tasks and increasingly influences human decisions.
The authors support this bold claim with an approach centered on technology, human thought and actions, global connectedness, and national security to contextualize how AI forces society to grapple with what constitutes human identity. Artificial intelligence systems consume, process, and in many cases, act upon vast amounts of information. The authors present a compelling argument that AI is revolutionary and unique from other technological advancements in history because it changes the conceptualization of not only what people do, but also how they exist. While past technologies have altered the way humans perform tasks, AI changes how humans see themselves as contributors to society, even to the point of compelling humans to question reality itself.
The best aspect of this book is its challenge of conventional thought regarding artificial intelligence and technology in general. The authors respect the significant changes AI will bring but also emphasize their belief that it will remain under human control, just like other technologies. Similar works celebrate the vast capabilities of AI but avoid describing how it may transform beliefs about human existence that have otherwise lasted for centuries. The goal for society in the twenty-first century is to accept what is a previously inconceivable change to how humans perceive their existence and environment. Yet humans, the authors argue, still may shape the future despite the unprecedented advancements in AI.
An area of improvement for the book is its use of the past as a lens through which to view an unpredictable future. In a chapter about technology and human thought, the authors use historical examples of the rise of monotheistic religions in ancient Greek and Roman cultures to illustrate how reason and faith once explained reality to support their point that AI may redefine the future perception of reality. In other words, they predict AI will replace the structural framework by which humans understand their environment. However, these examples neglect the question posed by such historical comparisons: Is artificial intelligence truly unlike any other technological advancement in human history, even revolutionary technologies that profoundly changed human behavior, such as automatic weapons? Historical examples fall short in providing an answer to that question, mainly because the authors place significant weight on the distinctive impact of AI and future uncertainty.
On another note, the book effectively reviews AI’s rapid emergence and its infinite possibilities. In a chapter about global network platforms, the authors present a central point: humans integrate non-human intelligence into essential human activity, which introduces considerations about social norms, authoritative institutions, and the importance of governance. This chapter informs the reader about the global reach of AI and the importance of understanding technology as a whole society, not solely as an individual, country, or continent. Artificial intelligence and its reach impact the world. The authors explain its reach as a global network connecting people worldwide more rapidly than any other technology in history, an idea that underpins the book's importance.
The authors include relevant implications for strategists, including national security considerations, the opacity of cyber weapons, mutual restraint, and the assumptions decisionmakers must make about the world. They argue that all major countries must address the security challenges of AI systems. This dilemma transitions well to the book's final section, exploring the convergence between AI and human identity. The authors believe society must preserve humanity by confronting what is enduring about human interactions and what is revolutionary about technology. This deliberate action involves accepting new information, developing safeguards to protect the human role in decisions, and reinforcing accountability with the use of artificial intelligence.
This book addresses the balance between technology and human experience by discovering unique challenges artificial intelligence will pose to perceptions of reality and its role in society and concludes with a call to action for humans to define their partnership with AI and the resulting reality from the technology's advancement. Otherwise, society risks succumbing to the uncertainty AI will likely pose to human experience, which is more dangerous than any functional capability of the technology itself.
Major Donald Williams Jr., USAF