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IF YOU ask the AI-powered chatbot ChatGPT what the rise of artificial intelligence means for humanity’s future, it proffers a measured response, concluding that “the future of humanity with AI is not predetermined, and its impact will depend on how AI is developed, regulated, and integrated into various aspects of society”.

Sensible stuff but, let’s be honest, evasive. If you really want to get to grips with how the era of AI will pan out for us, you are better off asking Scott Aaronson and Boaz Barak, computer scientists at the University of Texas at Austin and Harvard University, respectively. They have already gone to the trouble of boiling down the lengthy discourse on the matter to a handful of outcomes – and given each a whimsical name. “Our goal was to map out the scenarios that people are currently talking about,” says Aaronson.

Discussing it at length over dinner, they ended up convinced that just five future worlds cover all the possible endpoints of our development of AI. The pair then wrote a post on Aaronson’s blog, hoping that “The five worlds of AI” would help people in the field talk meaningfully to each other about end goals and regulation. “We took a humorous tone, but we are serious about trying to ground the debate,” says Barak.

Here, then, is a vaguely choose-your-own-adventure style exploration of their five worlds. It is a bit of fun, with the twist that, depending on how we play things, we could wind up in an AI-assisted utopia…or wipe out humanity.

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