Verity Harding β€” Are We in an AI Arms Race? | Prof G Conversations

Prof G Conversations
23 Mar 202431:16

TLDRIn this thought-provoking discussion, Verity Harding, an AI expert and author, shares insights on the role of AI in society and its future. She critiques the technocentric view that AI is either a savior or a destroyer of humanity, highlighting the importance of diverse perspectives in shaping AI's development. Harding emphasizes the need for public trust in AI and the potential for international cooperation, rather than competition, in advancing this transformative technology.


  • πŸ’‘ The conversation often revolves around the atomic bomb analogy for AI, which may not be the most helpful or accurate comparison.
  • 🌐 AI's development and future are not just determined by technology itself but are significantly influenced by politics, culture, and societal needs.
  • πŸš€ There is a technocratic narcissism where inventors may view their creations as either the ultimate savior or destroyer of humanity.
  • πŸ€– AI should be seen as a tool for uplifting humanity rather than something that happens to us passively.
  • πŸ“ˆ The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few incumbents is a concern, as AI advancements seem to be benefiting those already in power.
  • 🧠 The importance of diverse perspectives in AI development, including those from outside the tech sector, is emphasized.
  • πŸ›‘ The potential negative consequences of an AI arms race narrative, including its impact on business, international relations, and consumer trust.
  • 🌍 The UK's struggle to monetize its intellectual property and innovation, despite its strong academic and research background.
  • πŸ—½ A comparison between London and New York highlights the different cultural focuses, with the US being more business-centric and the UK valuing a broader range of experiences.
  • πŸ“š The advice for young people is to pursue their passions and develop an understanding of AI without necessarily becoming tech experts.
  • 🌟 The Space Race serves as an example of how competition can be transformed into cooperation for the betterment of humanity.

Q & A

  • What is the main issue the speaker has with the analogy of the atomic bomb in AI conversations?

    -The speaker finds the atomic bomb analogy unhelpful because it focuses on a wartime-created weapon, which removes the agency humans have in guiding AI development towards a beneficial and publicly good direction.

  • How does the speaker feel about the level of techn narcissism in the AI field?

    -The speaker believes there is a certain level of techn narcissism where inventors of technology want to convince others that their invention is either the savior or the destroyer of humanity, which the speaker finds problematic and narcissistic.

  • What is the speaker's view on the role of history in shaping technology and vice versa?

    -The speaker argues that science and technology are as shaped by the politics and culture of the time as the politics and culture are shaped by science and technology, indicating a mutual influence and reflection of societal values.

  • What does the speaker suggest is the current trend in the AI industry regarding value creation?

    -The speaker suggests that the value creation in AI is currently going to incumbents, with examples like NVIDIA being a new player, but largely benefiting established tech giants.

  • How does the speaker feel about the narrative of an AI arms race?

    -The speaker finds the AI arms race narrative problematic, believing it to be bad for business, dialogue, diplomacy, and consumer interests, as it directs AI towards militaristic routes and hinders the free flow of ideas.

  • What alternative narrative does the speaker propose for AI in geopolitics?

    -The speaker proposes a narrative rooted in collaboration rather than competition, using the space race as an example of how nations can engage in inspiring science while also cooperating and collaborating internationally.

  • What is the speaker's perspective on the UK's ability to monetize intellectual property?

    -The speaker agrees that the UK struggles to monetize its intellectual property and deep education, despite having world-class universities and a rich computing history.

  • What advice does the speaker give to young people to ensure they are AI literate and competent?

    -The speaker advises young people to pursue their passions and not feel pressured to become AI experts if it's not their interest. They also suggest understanding how technology works and having diverse perspectives as an advantage.

  • How does the speaker describe the cultural differences between the US and the UK?

    -The speaker finds the US to be more focused on business and money, with a lack of a shared sense of truth, while the UK maintains a well-regulated media environment and a shared sense of truth, which is important for a functioning society.

  • What is the speaker's view on the importance of non-technical disciplines in the development of AI?

    -The speaker believes that non-technical disciplines are just as critical to the development and integration of AI as AI subjects themselves, and that undervaluing humanities and other skills is a cultural problem.

  • What is the speaker's book about and what message does it convey?

    -The speaker's book, 'AI needs you: how we can change AI's future and save our own,' discusses how history enters the AI conversation and often distorts rather than forms our understanding of AI. The book aims to provide insights on how to guide AI development for the public good.



πŸ€– AI's Role in Humanity's Future

The speaker discusses the common analogy of AI to the atomic bomb, highlighting the issue of techn narcissism where inventors view their creations as either saviors or destroyers of humanity. They argue against the focus on catastrophic scenarios and emphasize the importance of democratic control in shaping AI's future. The conversation also touches on the need to see AI as something beyond a wartime weapon and to recognize humanity's agency in guiding technological development.


🌐 AI's Impact on Society and the World

The discussion shifts to the impact of AI on society, with the speaker noting the division along partisan lines when AI enters mainstream conversation. They express concern about the lack of a natural resolution to these divides and suggest that active choice and effort are needed. The conversation also explores the allocation of financial and human capital into AI and its various applications, including media, healthcare, and national security, while questioning the narrative of an AI arms race.


πŸ“š Lessons from History and the Space Race

The speaker draws parallels between the space race and AI, advocating for a shift from a nationalistic, competitive stance to one of international cooperation. They argue that the initial space race, though rooted in Cold War politics, eventually led to global collaboration and the establishment of the UN Outer Space Treaty. The speaker emphasizes the potential for AI to follow a similar path, promoting global cooperation and shared benefits.


πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§ UK's Struggle with Intellectual Property Monetization

The conversation turns to the UK's challenges in monetizing intellectual property, despite its strong academic and research background. The speaker acknowledges the success of Cambridge as an AI epicenter but notes the UK's difficulty in translating this into economic gains. They discuss the importance of a world-class engineering university or intellectual property in creating billion-dollar companies and express concern over the UK's inability to fully capitalize on its potential.


πŸŒ† Contrasting Business Cultures: London vs New York

The speaker shares personal observations on the differences between the US and UK business cultures, highlighting the UK's more balanced approach to business and money compared to the US, particularly Silicon Valley. They express a distaste for the US's obsession with money and business, the increasing inequality, and the divisiveness in politics and media. The speaker also praises the UK's regulated media environment and shared sense of truth, which they find lacking in the US.


πŸŽ“ Empowering the Next Generation in AI

The speaker advises on empowering young individuals to be AI literate and competent, emphasizing the importance of passion and diverse perspectives. They argue against the notion that non-technical individuals will become obsolete, advocating for a balanced approach that values both technical and non-technical disciplines. The speaker shares their own journey from history and politics to technology, underscoring the value of understanding technology without necessarily becoming an expert.


πŸ›οΈ AI and Public Policy Expertise

The speaker, Verity Harding, is introduced as a globally recognized expert in AI technology and public policy. She is the Director of the AI and geopolitics project at Cambridge University's Bennett Institute for public policy and the founder of Formation Advisory, a technology consultancy firm. Her debut book, 'AI needs you: How we can change AI's future and save our own,' is mentioned, along with her current location in New York City.




Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to the development of computer systems that can perform tasks typically requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and language translation. In the context of the video, AI is discussed as a transformative technology with significant implications for society, ethics, and geopolitics. The conversation touches on the potential for AI to be either a savior or a threat to humanity, reflecting the dualistic view that AI can be used for beneficial or destructive purposes.

πŸ’‘Technological Narcissism

Technological narcissism is a term that describes the tendency of technology inventors or enthusiasts to believe that their creations are of utmost importance, either as the sole solution to humanity's problems or as the cause of its downfall. This concept is used in the video to critique the extreme views that AI is either the ultimate savior or the ultimate destroyer, suggesting that such views are overly self-centered and fail to consider the nuanced realities of technology's impact.

πŸ’‘Atomic Bomb Analogy

The atomic bomb analogy refers to the comparison of AI to the development of the atomic bomb, suggesting that AI, like the bomb, could have profound and far-reaching consequences for humanity. This analogy is often used to highlight the potential dangers of AI, but the speaker in the video argues that it is unhelpful and distorts the conversation around AI's future, as it focuses too much on the destructive potential and not enough on the agency humans have in shaping technology's development.

πŸ’‘AI and Geopolitics

AI and geopolitics refers to the impact of AI on international relations, including economic competition, national security, and global governance. The discussion in the video highlights the narrative of an AI arms race, particularly between the US and China, and the need for alternative narratives that focus on collaboration rather than competition. It emphasizes the importance of international cooperation and dialogue in the responsible development and use of AI.

πŸ’‘Ethics in AI

Ethics in AI pertains to the moral principles and values that should guide the development and use of AI systems. This includes considerations of fairness, transparency, accountability, and the potential impacts on society. The video transcript touches on the importance of ethical considerations in AI development, suggesting that a diverse range of perspectives is crucial for ensuring that AI serves the public good and does not exacerbate existing societal divides.


In the context of the video, incumbents refer to established companies or entities that already hold a dominant position in their respective fields. The discussion suggests that these incumbents are the ones benefiting from the advancements in AI, rather than new entrants or startups. This raises concerns about the concentration of power and the potential for AI to widen existing inequalities.

πŸ’‘Digital Transformation

Digital transformation refers to the process of using digital technologies to fundamentally change how organizations operate and deliver value to their customers. It often involves the integration of new digital and smart technologies into all areas of a business, from back-office operations to customer-facing services. In the video, the speaker notes that even basic digitization is a challenge for some businesses and governments, let alone the integration of AI.

πŸ’‘AI Literacy

AI literacy refers to the understanding and knowledge of AI technologies, their capabilities, limitations, and implications. It is the ability to comprehend how AI works, its potential applications, and its impact on society. The video emphasizes the importance of AI literacy for individuals to effectively engage with and utilize AI in their personal and professional lives.

πŸ’‘Public Good

The public good refers to the benefits or advantages that affect the well-being of the general population, rather than just a select group of individuals. In the context of the video, the discussion around AI's development emphasizes the need for it to be democratically controlled and to serve the public good, rather than being used solely for the benefit of a few or for military purposes.


Zeitgeist refers to the defining spirit or mood of a particular period as shown by the ideas and beliefs that are fashionable or popular at that time. In the video, the term is used to discuss the cultural and political context that shapes and is shaped by technology, including AI. The speaker suggests that the current societal issues, such as inequality and polarization, are reflected in the way AI is developed and used.

πŸ’‘National Security

National security refers to the measures taken by a nation to protect its citizens, economy, and institutions against external and internal threats. In the context of the video, national security is discussed in relation to AI, highlighting the need to balance the drive for technological advancement with the protection of a country's interests. However, the speaker argues against a purely militaristic focus on AI and advocates for a more collaborative approach.


The discussion focuses on the historical analogy of AI to the atomic bomb, highlighting the techn narcissism in perceiving AI as either a savior or a destroyer of humanity.

The speaker criticizes the catastrophic and narcissistic view of AI, emphasizing the importance of democratic control and public agency in shaping AI's future.

The conversation addresses the common misconception that AI is something happening to us, rather than recognizing our active role in guiding technological development.

The speaker argues against the techn narcissistic view that every inventor wants to convince the world their technology will either save or destroy humanity.

The discussion touches on the impact of wartime-created weapons like the atomic bomb on the perception of AI and the need to avoid such analogies for a beneficial future path.

The speaker suggests that the current focus on AI in the media and mainstream conversation is split along partisan lines, reflecting existing societal divides.

The conversation highlights the political nature of technology and its reflection of the existing zeitgeist, including societal inequalities and distrust in institutions.

The speaker discusses the potential for AI to be directed towards militaristic routes due to an AI arms race narrative, which is detrimental to global cooperation and progress.

The interviewee shares their view on the importance of collaboration in AI and geopolitics, using the space race as an example of how competition can be transformed into cooperation.

The conversation points out the counterproductive nature of the hype cycle around AI, suggesting that it may hinder progress rather than foster it.

The speaker emphasizes the need for diverse participation and viewpoints in AI development to foster public trust and achieve a positive outcome.

The interviewee shares their personal experience of moving to the UK and the opportunities it presents, contrasting the US and UK cultures and business environments.

The speaker discusses the challenges of monetizing intellectual property in the UK, despite its strong academic and technological background.

The conversation addresses the role of government in AI, emphasizing the need for depoliticization, diverse participation, and setting necessary limits to ensure trust and prevent harm.

The speaker advises young individuals to pursue their passions and not feel pressured to become AI experts, as other disciplines are equally important in the development and integration of AI.

The interview concludes with the speaker's belief in the importance of a shared sense of truth and community, which they feel is lacking in the US compared to the UK.