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The Coming Wave summary

Mustafa Suleyman

Technology, Power, and the Twenty-first Century's Greatest Dilemma

4.4 (360 ratings)
20 mins

Brief summary

The Coming Wave by Mustafa Suleyman examines the potential and risks of artificial intelligence in transforming society. It offers insights into the ethical implications and calls for responsible AI development.

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    The Coming Wave
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    The inevitability of “revenge effects”

    We’re on the cusp of a new dawn for humanity. The technologies of the future – above all, artificial intelligence and genetic engineering – will be unlike anything we’ve seen before. 

    That, in a nutshell, is the problem and the promise at the heart of The Coming Wave. These technologies, Mustafa Suleyman argues, will create untold wealth and surplus – and unleash unprecedented disruption. Before we get to that, though, we need some context. Despite the radical newness of such technologies, this is, in many ways, a familiar problem. As the history of technology shows, breakthroughs have long come with unintended side-effects. 

    Technology is, fundamentally, a set of ever-changing ideas. New technologies evolve by colliding with other technologies. The laws governing such evolution are Darwinian: effective combinations survive and become the building blocks for further innovation. Invention thus feeds on itself. Yesterday’s breakthrough becomes a sub-component of tomorrow’s innovation. Think, for example, of how cell phones “swallowed” everything from GPS to QR codes and facial recognition to become the all-purpose smartphones we carry in our pockets today. 

    In engineering terms, this is a virtuous feedback loop. But technology doesn’t evolve in a vacuum; it’s part of our dynamic world. Technologies are often not used as intended, and ripple effects are the norm. Thomas Edison’s phonograph was supposed to help the blind; he thought the use to which people actually put it – listening to music – a frivolous misuse. But that “misuse” spawned an entire industry and changed popular culture forever. Similarly, Alfred Nobel’s explosives were designed for use in mining and railway construction, not on the battlefield. The outcome was nonetheless a revolution in humans’ ability to kill and maim one another. 

    Then there’s Johannes Gutenberg, the German craftsman who designed a device to mass-print profitable vernacular Bibles. In the end, his printing press spurred the Scientific Revolution and the Reformation, undermining the authority of the institution that had dominated political life in Europe for centuries: the Catholic Church. Talk about unintended consequences! 

    Such consequences are sometimes called “revenge effects.” Once you look for them, you start spotting them everywhere. Take antibiotics, a miracle cure that worked so well that we ended up overprescribing them and creating new strains of treatment-resistant diseases. Or the exploration of the cosmos. We got so good at launching satellites and rockets that our ambitions in space are now threatened by the debris and junk orbiting our planet. 

    Unforeseen consequences are hardwired into successful technologies. The more pervasive a technology becomes, the more its users reshape and reinterpret it. Rapid advancements often begin with a lone scientist or tinkerer in a garage, but they can quickly become societal quandaries. Facebook and Twitter didn’t set out to expedite the spread of democracy-poisoning disinformation, but that’s exactly what happened once millions of citizens began relying on them as news sources. 

    Historically, societies sometimes attempted to sidestep such quandaries by suppressing the technologies causing them. Pope Urban II, for example, tried to ban the crossbow – it was too effective, he thought, and unchristian to boot. Dozens of states clamped down on the printing press. eroding its authority. During the Industrial Revolution, artisans destroyed new livelihood-threatening machinery. But resistance was futile. Technologies like crossbows, books, and industrial looms persisted and evolved, changing the face of human civilization. 

    For Suleyman, groundbreaking technologies like AI and genetic engineering will also prove too useful to be suppressed. But, like earlier breakthroughs, their widespread adoption has the potential to create profound revenge effects. What these effects will be, and what we can do to contain them while harnessing the benefits of such technologies, is the topic of this Blink. 

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    What is The Coming Wave about?

    The Coming Wave (2023) is a wake-up call. Artificial intelligence and genetic engineering aren’t just technologies of the future; they’re already here, and remaking the world we live in. More than any transformative technology of the past, they have the ability to make the next decades the best in human history – or the worst. Which path our societies go down is up to us and our ability to think clearly about the risks and rewards ahead of us. 

    The Coming Wave Review

    The Coming Wave (2022) explores the fascinating world of emerging technologies and their impact on society, making it a must-read for anyone interested in the future. Here's why this book is special:

    • It presents insightful analysis and predictions about the future of technology, helping readers understand the potential consequences and opportunities.
    • Backed by extensive research and real-world examples, the book offers a comprehensive overview of the current and upcoming technological trends.
    • With its engaging storytelling and thought-provoking ideas, it manages to captivate readers, making the exploration of the future anything but boring.

    Who should read The Coming Wave?

    • Those interested in AI ethics and impacts
    • Technologists and entrepreneurs
    • Policymakers and regulators

    About the Author

    Mustafa Suleyman has been at the cutting-edge of AI research and development since the early 2000s. In 2010, he founded DeepMind, one of the world’s most successful AI companies. He is currently the vice president of AI product management and AI policy at Google.

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