Artificial Intelligence and Inequality
Why the biggest AI question is who owns and controls it.
At Uncharted, we believe the two biggest problems facing the US in the next 30 years are climate change and extreme economic inequality, and we’re singularly focused on moonshot solutions, technologies, and policies addressing economic inequality in America. We’re not interested in shovel-ready solutions that have quick results (show me a solution that can produce immediate results, and I’ll show you a solution that doesn’t challenge the status quo), but we’ve been studying the research and looking years ahead to understand the biggest drivers that will influence economic inequality in the US in the next 5, 10, and 15 years.
I am becoming increasingly convinced that the largest exacerbator of economic inequality in the US in the next 30 years will be who owns and who controls artificial intelligence technologies (this podcast and this essay have been instructive). Thus far, the conversation around AI has orbited around two issues: bias in the algorithms and loss of jobs when the computers displace humans. Both are problems, sure, but they pale in comparison to the bigger issue of AI ownership and control. We’ll figure out how to reduce bias in algorithms, and job-losses won’t be as intense as feared, but just like in other areas of the economy, inequality is ultimately a question of who owns and who controls. AI will create fantastic wealth and immense power, but if we accept the premise that ownership creates power and power precedes and then drives policy (instead of the other way around), we have a short window of time before the ownership of AI and its power are so consolidated that any chance of equitable policies around it will be unlikely. We’re in a narrow window right now where AI is still quite embryonic, and we need to seize this moment to consider policies in one of the most consequential frontiers of the 21st century: the ownership and regulation of transformational technologies.