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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
Since the Enlightenment, humans have made unprecedented advances — in science, technology, health conditions, living standards and more — as reason and analysis replaced superstition. Now, technology may be threatening that system.
Driving the news: In a much-read essay in The Atlantic, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger argues that powerful artificial intelligence could replace human thought with data-driven decision-making.
If that happens, Axios' Kaveh Waddell reports, AI could chip away at our ability to think critically.
AI, by mastering certain competencies more rapidly and definitively than humans, could over time diminish human competence and the human condition itself as it turns it into data.— Henry Kissinger, in his June Atlantic essay
The context: Kissinger is referring to artificial general intelligence, a future form of AI that would be capable of human-like thought in a variety of fields. That’s very different from today's AI: algorithms that perform narrow tasks like identifying images and operating self-driving cars.
The big picture: Kaveh spoke with a half-dozen people from different fields about the essay. Some found it hard to fathom given how far AI is from general intelligence. Others, however, agreed with Kissinger's central thesis. Here is a sampling.
If some event of which we can at the moment do no more than sense the possibility — without knowing either what its form will be or what it promises — were to cause them to crumble … then one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.
For now, AI is nowhere near rendering humans brains mush.
Whether AI does eventually approach or surpass the human capacity for broad thinking, there’s an alternate future in which machines don’t take over complex decisions completely, but instead supply humans with relevant advice and data.
The bottom line: Even in its current form, AI is well-suited for the Enlightenment-style thinking that Kissinger worries humans will abdicate.
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
For traditional retailers, existing alongside Amazon on the internet is getting tougher.
What's happening: Amazon is gobbling up Google results on companies, sending users to Amazon even when they search specific key words related to other retailers, market research firm Gartner L2 notes in a new report, writes Erica Pandey.
The bottom line: The Amazon effect is changing companies from top to bottom, influencing their decisions on everything from how much they pay their employees to what they spend on Google ads.
Last month marked a global tipping point. For the first time in the 10,000 years of human civilization, more than half the world's population — some 3.8 billion people — are middle class, according to a report by the Brookings Institution.
Why it matters: Since the agricultural age led humans to organize into society, we have struggled. Through the early 19th century, civilization as a whole was essentially hand to mouth. Beginning with the Industrial Age, though, living standards began to improve. As of now, the number of poor people is down to 630 million people — 8% of the world population, say Brookings' Homi Kharas and Kristofer Hamel.
By the numbers:
How they calculated: Kharas and Hamel's basic definition of middle class is the availability of discretionary income — whether people have money above and beyond their absolute necessities.
Reality check: Half the global population is still poor or vulnerable to falling into poverty, Hamel and Kharas say.
Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty
Investors are talking about reviving the bankrupt Toys "R" Us, but its multibillion-dollar business is meanwhile being picked over by the big three — Amazon, Walmart and Target.
What's happening: Target and Walmart are adding floor space to accommodate more toys this holiday season, reports WSJ. And they are in a pitched toys battle with Amazon online, according to the Gartner L2 report, writes Erica.
By the numbers: Toys "R" Us took 15% of the $27 billion U.S. toy market last year, selling $1.4 billion worth in just December 2017.
But this year, Amazon topped search results for 95% of toy terms and 88% of baby terms, per Gartner L2.