Are you prepared to navigate the technological singularity? Here's what the strategic finance leader needs to know about artificial superintelligence.

In his book "Surviving AI: The Promise and Peril of Artificial Intelligence," Calum Chace argues that the technological singularity is the most important issue humanity faces. With International Data Corporation (IDC) predicting spending on artificial intelligence to reach $57.6 billion by 2021, it's one are of the business finance leaders can't affort to not pay attention to. This third and final installment in a series on must-read books for finance leaders explores the meaning and nature of this critical phenomenon — as well as its business implications.

Defining the Singularity

"The arrival of superintelligence, when and if it happens, would represent a technological singularity (usually just referred to as 'the singularity'), and would be the most significant event in human history, bar none," writes Chace. "Working out how to survive it is the most important challenge facing humanity in this and the next generations." Superintelligence, in this context, refers to technology with a consciousness and abstract thinking capabilities to rival the human brain.

What does this mean? According to Chace, "If we avoid the pitfalls, it will improve life in ways which are quite literally beyond our imagination. A superintelligence which recursively improved its own architecture and expanded its capabilities could very plausibly solve any human problem you could think of." That said, there's a sizable caveat: We wouldn't necessarily be able to put limits on that innovation. This potential rapid and unfettered development of AI is the singularity.

"If these astounding events do indeed lie ahead of us," writes Chace, "they may arrive in a rush. If there is an intelligence explosion, there is no compelling reason to think that the superintelligence will stop recursively self-improving once it exceeds human intelligence, by a factor of ten, a hundred, or a million."

What This Means for Finance Leaders

While superintelligence may be 50 years in the future, rapid innovations could lead to significant developments sooner. As a finance leader, you have an array of issues to consider:

  1. How are you using AI's capability to learn to power smarter products and services?
  2. If a technological singularity is on the horizon, what decisions can you make to invest in technologies that help people in addition to being profitable?
  3. What role does your organization want to take in the long-term discussion on the evolution of AI?
  4. Is there a business opportunity to tackle the challenge of "friendly AI" — or avert negative outcomes of a singularity — in your field?

While it may sound like science fiction, minds from Elon Musk to Stephen Hawking have discussed the potential of an AI-powered technological singularity to reshape our world. The pace of technological evolution is fast, and strategic leaders should consider their organization's role in the larger conversation.

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