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2084 vs 1984: The Difference AI Could Make to Big Brother


In a recent podcast, Oxford mathematician John Lennox answered some questions raised about his new book, 2084 by Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks, including questions as to how the loss of privacy could wind up really harming us:

From the transcript:

Robert J. Marks: It’s been said that AI is the new electricity. It’s neither good nor bad. You have addressed some of the potential negative uses of artificial intelligence or the negative impacts of artificial intelligence, but expanding on that, what are some of the big threats that you see in the use of AI technology in the near future?

John Lennox: Well, the threats are best explained by comparing them with the advantages. Let’s take a very simple and practical example, which is extremely useful. That is in the field of x-ray technology. Let’s imagine that we construct a database of a million x-rays of people’s lungs and we get the best medical experts in the world to label the diseases on those images. That becomes a big database for a computer AI system. Then you or I, we get problems with our breathing, an x-ray is taken. In a few seconds it’s compared with a million pictures in the database and out comes a diagnosis. Now, we’re already at the stage where such diagnoses tend, on average, to be quite a bit better than you would get in your local hospital. There’s a positive thing.

Now let’s go down the scale and think of the AI associated with our smartphones. We buy a book and a few days later up pops a little message that says, “People that bought that book also are interested in this book,” and your attention is drawn to buying the second book. Well, that can be very useful or it can be very irritating. What many people do not realize is that that system is actually harvesting a great deal of information about us, about where we go, who we meet, what our buying preferences are. It’s being sold on to third parties without our permission. This is what is in a way called surveillance capitalism.

Shoshana Zuboff, who’s an emeritus professor at MIT, has written quite a chilling book about this as being very dangerous for society, this theft of our property, our data property, without our permission.

The problem is that we willingly wear these trackers and we’re sacrificing, in a sense, quite a lot of our privacy in order to gain these alleged advantages. Whether they are advantages or not as something that we need to seriously think about before we’re engulfed by it.

You might also enjoy: John Lennox: How AI raises the stakes for all of us. AI could cause more serious problems than nuclear energy. You cannot build a bomb in your bedroom but you could hack your way around the world.


Exclusive!: John Lennox answers our questions about AI in 2084. In his new book, 2084, the Oxford mathematician doubts that AI, now or then, will out-think humans. Our real worry is how the tech will be used.

Show Notes

  • 00:46 | Introducing Dr. John Lennox, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University
  • 01:34 | Reasons for writing 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity
  • 03:17 | A quick overview of the book
  • 04:04 | What does it mean to be human?
  • 06:12 | Consciousness and the theory of panpsychism
  • 07:33 | Human rights and artificial general intelligence
  • 10:33 | How will technology change what it means to be human?
  • 12:57 | Advantages and threats of artificial intelligence

Additional Resources

  • 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity website
  • John Lennox’s website
  • 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity at Amazon
  • A previous Mind Matters podcast with John Lennox
  • Artificial general intelligence at Wikipedia
  • Panpsychism at Encyclopædia Britannica
  • The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff at Amazon

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2084 vs 1984: The Difference AI Could Make to Big Brother