Barack Obama Issues Dire Warning About Artificial Intelligence

Ex-president says tech disruption in economy leads to more terrorism, inequality.

May 10, 2017 5:00 am
Former President Barack Obama speaks at a food and farming conference in Milan, Italy.
Former US President Barack Obama speaks during the Seeds&Chips Global Food Innovation Summit on May 9, 2017 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)

Former President Barack Obama has a grim view of the future—if thought is not devoted to the human impact that comes along with the fast pace of technological innovation.

While artificial intelligence has the potential to help combat some of the world’s greatest challenges, including climate change, it could also cultivate large-scale social unrest by widening the global inequality gap.

That was one of Obama’s speaking points Tuesday at Seeds&Chips, a global food and innovation summit in Milan, Italy, Fortune reports. The speech marked the first international remarks Obama has delivered since leaving the White House.

“The issue of both inequality within countries and between countries is absolutely critical,” he said, noting that attention must be paid to increasing divisions and resistance to technology and globalization as people feel left behind. People “will resist efforts to deal with climate change” if their basic needs aren’t met, Obama said. “It’s a luxury to worry about climate change.”

Tech disruption in the economy will have other unintended side effects that must be anticipated now, Obama added. He cited a lack of unemployment in Middle Eastern countries and sectors of Southeast Asia as potential fuel for more conflict and terrorism.

“That lack of meaning and purpose will channel itself in unhealthy ways,” Obama said.

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