This dark fable may predict humanity’s future with AI

From Big Think.

Peter Singer is an Australian moral philosopher and the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. Born in Melbourne, Australia, Singer is best known for his work in applied ethics, where he takes a utilitarian approach to animal rights, global poverty, and the ethics of life and death decisions. His 1975 book, "Animal Liberation," is credited with sparking the animal rights movement by arguing against speciesism—the discrimination against beings based on their species—and advocating for the equal consideration of interests of all sentient beings.

Singer’s contributions to philosophy also include significant works on altruism and effective altruism, a movement that encourages using evidence and reasoning to determine the most effective ways to benefit others. His book "The Life You Can Save" argues for the moral obligation of individuals in affluent countries to donate a portion of their income to charities that effectively relieve global poverty.

Throughout his career, Singer has been a polarizing figure, eliciting strong reactions for his controversial stances on topics such as euthanasia, infanticide, and animal rights. Despite this, he remains a prominent voice in public debates on ethics, drawing attention to critical issues related to suffering and wellbeing. His work spans across numerous books, articles, and lectures, continuously challenging readers and listeners to reconsider their moral beliefs and actions.

Peter Singer has recently engaged in discussions about the ethical implications of artificial intelligence (AI), emphasizing the need for a utilitarian approach to ensure that AI development benefits all sentient beings. He has voiced concerns about AI’s potential to exacerbate global inequalities and the importance of incorporating ethical considerations into AI research and deployment. By advocating for responsible AI development, Singer continues to influence the dialogue on how technology can align with the broader goals of reducing suffering and enhancing wellbeing.

In this video, Singer reflects on a fable created by philosopher Nick Bostrom. The fable follows a group of sparrows who decide to hatch an owl in order to alleviate themselves of difficult labor tasks. One wise sparrow speaks up to challenge the idea, asking if the group should be introducing something into their nest without knowing what the consequences are. The other sparrows ignore the wise sparrow and decide to raise the egg. Once it hatches, the owl eats the group of sparrows, as that is what owls naturally do. Singer poses this fable as a way of asking about humanity’s relationship with AI. Are we the sparrows, set to be overtaken by an owl of our own creation? Do we know what our future will look like, after the superintelligent AI hatches in our nest?