Dean Ball, member of the board of directors, The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI), praises the thoughtfulness of the artificial intelligence debate. An AHI alumnus and current research fellow at the Mercatus Institute at George Mason University, Mr. Ball contrasts the debate to the extreme hostility (“death threats,” “threatening voicemails from politically connected organizations”) he has sometimes encountered on two other issues: “woke” administrative policies during his student years at Hamilton College and, more recently, ideas for reforming inefficiency in New York City’s public transportation.

Despite many flaws in the debate over AI, it is “among the most elevated and nuanced I have seen during my career in public policy … my intellectual ‘opponents’—those who worry immensely about AI catastrophic risks—are, by and large, honest and good-faith people.” In general, Mr. Ball has “never had more worthy intellectual allies or opponents.” Although the theories and “philosophical musings” in their podcasts and online posts can be “overwrought, sometimes pretentious,” they are “almost always well-meaning.” As both the economic stakes and governmental involvement in AI increase, things may well grow less pleasant, but for now the discussion is a model of civility.

In this new piece, “The AI Republic of Letters,” Mr. Ball suggests that the AI debate’s remarkably high quality is especially valuable given the speed, and complexity, of developments in such an intensely dynamic field:  “No technological transformation has happened as quickly as the one that I believe will happen over the next 10-20 years”—in this sense, coming developments in AI are like “a tsunami.” There’s also the opaqueness of certain major challenges related to artificial intelligence: “We do not know how to govern the internet. We do not know how statecraft might be transformed by AI.”

In dealing with AI’s formidable policy dimensions, there is “little more than the wisdom of history and our own experience to guide us.” Accordingly, “the virtues of the Enlightenment are, at the very least, our best starting point for grappling with what is to come.”