How will AI change our lives? Experts can’t agree — and that could be a problem.

Artificial intelligence is playing strategy games, writing news articles, folding proteins, and teaching grandmasters new moves in Go. Some experts warn that as we make our systems more powerful, we’ll risk unprecedented dangers. Others argue that that day is centuries away, and predictions about it today are ridiculous. The American public, when surveyed, is nervous about automation, data privacy, and “critical AI system failures” that could end up killing people.

How do you grapple with a topic like that?

Two new books both take a similar approach. Possible Minds, edited by John Brockman and published last week by Penguin Press, asks 25 important thinkers — including Max Tegmark, Jaan Tallinn, Steven Pinker, and Stuart Russell — to each contribute a short essay on “ways of looking” at AI.

Architects of Intelligence, published last November by Packt Publishing, promises us “the truth about AI from the people building it” and includes 22 conversations between Ford and highly regarded researchers, including Google Brain founder Andrew Ng, Facebook’s Yann LeCun, and DeepMind’s Demis Hassabis.

Across the two books, 45 researchers (some feature in both) describe their thinking. Almost all perceive something momentous on the horizon. But they differ in trying to describe what about it is momentous — and they disagree profoundly on whether it should give us pause.

One gets the sense these are the kinds of books that could perhaps have been written in 1980 about the internet — and AI is, many of these experts tell us, likely to be a bigger deal than the internet. (McKinsey Global Institute director James Manyika, in Architects of Intelligence, compares it to electricity in its transformative potential.) It is easy for the people involved to see that there’s something enormous here, but surprisingly difficult for them to anticipate which of its potential promises will bear fruit, or when, or whether that will be for the good.

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