‘The Singularity’ is how inhabitants of Silicon Valley like to describe the ultimate break point in human history: that eventually, we will come face to face with machines that have minds of their own. What no one says, however, is that it might have happened before.
It took place a few hundred years ago, when human beings started building the artificial entities that now rule our world. They are called states and corporations: immensely powerful robots, able to take decisions and act for themselves. They have capacities that go far beyond what any individual human being can do, and never need to die.
What sort of control are humans able to exercise over these creatures? Have we been made less human by their existence? Do they work for us, or do we work for them? What, if anything, will remain of politics once they join forces with other thinking machines? These quintessentially twenty-first century questions have deep roots in the history of modern political and legal thought.
Professor Runciman joined us live to distil centuries of thinking about how to live with artificial agency – and tell us what it means for life in the twenty-first.
Professor David Runciman was Head of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) from October 2014 to October 2018. His research interests are in twentieth century political thought, particularly ideas of democracy and crisis, and the role of technology in contemporary politics. David writes regularly about politics for the London Review of Books.date. In 2018, he co-founded the first academic psychedelic research centre – underpinned by his mission to provide evidence-based information for people everywhere.