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2,000 Years of AI Doom: A Cultural History
September 24, 2023 at 10:00 am - 11:30 am PDT
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Over the last year, fears of an AI apocalypse have spread from Twitter’s weirder fringes to The Financial Times, The Economist, and The Wall Street Journal, publications not exactly known for doomsaying histrionics. An under-appreciated implication is that — for better or worse — this debate will rage for the rest of our lives.
This salon will examine the surprisingly long and rich cultural history of that idea. The very first modern science fiction novel was about AI doom. However, we can go even further back, to the first-century Gnostics, who were so heretical that more traditional Christians spent centuries eradicating all their texts. Yet, a series of bizarre historical accidents led to enormous Gnostic influence on modern culture, science fiction, and the ways we imagine AI and the future.
Cyberpunk science fiction, in turn, heavily influenced a tiny 90s mailing list that seeded — via Harry Potter fanfic — Silicon Valley’s “rationalist” subculture. A subculture that gave birth to “effective altruism,” hugely significant at OpenAI and other modern frontier AI labs, and was instrumental in the genesis of cryptocurrencies!
Join Jon Evans in this exploration of waves of cultural influences spanning centuries and culminating in debates still seething today!
This event will be structured as an hour-long talk in seven chapters, with pauses for discussion between each, followed by a Q&A session.
Jon is the author of nine novels, most recently the science fiction novel Exadelic from Tor Books; a journalist who has written for Wired, The Guardian, Quartz, The Walrus, The Globe & Mail, and (weekly, for a decade) TechCrunch; the founding director of the GitHub Archive Program, preserving the world’s open-source software in a vault beneath an Arctic mountain; and a software engineer who currently works at the AI/forecasting platform, Metaculus.