A Series of Small Apocalypses: On the Real Threats of AI

In the doldrums of last summer, I found myself swept up in a fleeting social-media frenzy. I had thought this could not happen to me again. I had myself written an entire book describing the mechanisms that cause such explosions of irrationality, and counseling readers on how to claw their way out of the naïve and gullible frame of mind that takes claims found on Twitter/X at face value. I had also closed my Twitter account upon concluding “research” for the book. But suddenly I found myself back there, almost unconsciously, disguised behind a new alias account.  The particular frenzy that sucked me in had to do not with artificial intelligence, though there was plenty of that swirling around too, but with the controversial reports of a new substance engineered by South Korean materials scientists, dubbed LK-99. This lab-generated polycrystalline compound was reported to exhibit at least some of the properties of a room-temperature, ambient-pressure superconductor. At present, our superconductors have to be maintained at temperatures and pressures so extreme as to require vast effort, energy, and thus money, to maintain them. But if LK-99 was what some had begun to believe it was, well, this would have been the beginning of a truly enormous technological revolution, with vast, almost unthinkable implications for the global economy and the organization of society. Some compared it to the discovery of the transistor, which inaugurated our current era of telecommunication. Others found even that comparison inadequate. One fellow took to Twitter to declare: “We have discovered fire all over again.”  There was a fascinating scramble to replicate the sketchy results from South Korea, which seem to have been posted precipitously online after a dispute among the members of the lab. Many on social media observed that this was an exciting opportunity for the

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