The New Fire

I just finished reading the latest addition to my book library. The New Fire was written by Ben Buchanan and Andrew Imbrie. The book explores artificial intelligence (AI) through the lens of geopolitics, specifically, the prospects for democracy versus autocracy. A worrying possibility is highlighted in the book; that AI will do more for autocracy than democracy. In comparing artificial intelligence to fire, the authors make a comparison that I explored in a recent poll. Fire is very destructive, but as the authors state, it is also the basis for civilization. Humans learned to tame the destructive nature of fire, while harnessing its power. That is the precise analogy to AI that the book studies.

Could there ever be another force so productive and perilous, one so essentially defined by the exponential growth of its core components?

Ben Buchanan, Andrew Imbrie, The New Fire

As fire begins with a spark, data, algorithms, and compute represent the spark that drove exponential AI growth over the last several years. The authors explore these elements that ignite AI. Once we understand what lit the flame, the book ventures into the fuel of AI by exploring inventing, killing, hacking, and lying. Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Imbrie do a brilliant job of helping us understand the dual paths that AI can take. They do this through the eyes of three competing and sometimes overlapping views – the evangelists, warriors, and Cassandras. The evangelists believe that humanity should tend the new fire for the benefit of all. The Cassandras fear the new fire. Named for the Trojan priestess whose prophecies were apt but ignored, they contend that AI is less useful and more dangerous than many proponents anticipate. The warriors want to harness the new fire not only for science but also for national security. Just as nearly every military since the Byzantines has been ready and able to burn its enemies with one kind of flame or another, many strategists today think that AI can be useful in deterring and winning wars.

Which one are you? Let me know via the poll below. A great book and a must read. I highly recommend it!

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