Dean Ball, a member of the Alexander Hamilton Institute board of directors and the senior program manager at the Hoover Institution’s State and Local Governance Initiative, has spent a decade studying and working on public policy. He recently started writing “Hyperdimensional,” an online newsletter on the Substack platform that will analyze “emerging technology, public policy, and the future of governance”—with a special focus on artificial intelligence (AI).
In his latest piece, “Humanity’s Next Leap,” Ball suggests that the development of writing in the distant past was an advance comparable to the growth of AI: “A thought is transformed by the ability to look at it. Before writing, complex causal chains must have been exceedingly difficult to establish. With no way to keep track of one’s previous thoughts, all but the simplest deductions must have been out of bounds.” Higher-dimensional thought based on logic and reason was “impossible without writing” and thus had barely existed. Writing therefore “altered the human mind,” and AI might too.
Artificial intelligence will greatly empower people, Ball predicts, in the sense that we will be able to have, in effect, large staffs of brain workers at our disposal: “In the not-so-distant future … everyone … will have the opportunity to use a personal AI assistant with expertise in every technical field and the ability to use a vast range of digital tools. Soon after, they’ll have something like a ten person company … Then a 100 person company, then 1000.”
While working for us, however, AI systems “may interact with one another in complex ways that may well escape our detailed understanding. This will change the world … but I believe it will also change our minds. Like writing, I believe it will unlock higher dimensions of cognition … The trouble is that nobody knows exactly what that means.”
It is reasonable, though, to expect an “accelerated fusion of man and machine” which might represent the “next stage … of human evolution. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman calls it the merge.” Ball hopes there will be a way for individuals to “opt out of the merge” and sees an eventual role for government in protecting that option, but is “not sure if it’s possible”—and cautions that senior public officials must, in any case, understand AI if they are to deal with it properly. Ball stresses that we all must be prepared for the challenge of artificial intelligence as it continues to develop: “It’s devilishly difficult to predict how much time we have before this becomes an urgent issue. It may be decades. It may be just a few years.”