On May 27, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger will attain the age of 100. Over the last few months, I have been involved in authoring an historical essay–“Kissinger at 100 – His Complex Historical Legacy.”
The essay is scheduled to be published around the time of Kissinger’s birthday by the Jandoli Institute, the public policy center for the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University. The institute’s executive director is Rich Lee, a former State House reporter who also served as Deputy Communication Director for former Governor Jim McGreevey. I will also be developing a podcast regarding my essay.
For me, this project is truly a career capstone, utilizing all my analytic skills developed over a lifetime. This includes, inter alia, my studies as a political science honors scholar as a Northwestern University undergraduate, my service as a Navy officer, my years as a corporate and private practice attorney, my career as a public official, including my leadership of two major federal and state agencies, my accomplishments as a college professor, and my most recent post-retirement career as an opinion journalist.
Whether one is an admirer or critic of Dr. Henry Kissinger, there is no question that he has been a transformative figure, with a greater impact on American history than any 20th century American other than our presidents. Researching his life and career is truly a Sisyphean endeavor.
Kissinger has authored thirteen books, a plethora of articles, and numerous media appearances. In jocular fashion, I have told friends and family members that researching Henry Kissinger is like studying the Torah – you never finish it!
So about a month ago, I thought that I had finished all my Kissinger research – until I had the good fortune to meet with a friend of mine who also, unbeknownst to me, was a friend of Henry Kissinger. When I informed him of my Kissinger project, he proceeded to display for me on his I phone numerous photos of him and the legendary Dr. K!
Then, he asked me what were my research sources. I proudly told him the list of my readings, video tape viewings, and interviews. He responded by saying, “Very good, but you have a critical omission. You did not read the book, The Age of AI (artificial intelligence) and Our Human Future.”
The book was co-authored by Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, and Daniel Huttenlocher, the Inaugural Dean of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing. For ease of reference, and with all due respect to his co-authors, I will refer to this work as the “Kissinger AI book.”
I told my friend that I was aware of the book, but I had chosen not to include it in my essay because of my focus on Kissinger as a foreign policy maker and diplomat. My friend, however, admonished me, “You do not understand. For Henry, his involvement with AI is a legacy item.”
So I immediately ordered the book. My friend was correct. The Kissinger AI book should be a must read for high governmental officials, New Jersey and federal. Every New Jersey cabinet member and authority executive director should have this book on his or her desk.
Within the last month, AI has become a growing arena of national focus, sparked in large part by the resignation of Dr. Geoffrey Hinton from his job at Google. Dr. Hinton is known as “the Godfather of AI.” He resigned so he can freely speak out about the risks of AI. A part of him, he said, now regrets his life’s work.
In New Jersey, late last year, a bill was introduced in the Assembly, A4909, which would mandate that employers could use only hiring software that has been subjected to a “bias audit,” which looks for any patterns of discrimination. It would require annual reviews of whether programs comply with state law.
The bill was generated because of increasing concern that a growing number of AI systems had either a gender, racial, or disability bias. As an example, Reuters reported in 2018 that Amazon had stopped using an AI recruiting tool because it penalized applicants with resumes that referred to “women’s” activities or degrees from two all-women’s colleges.
In February, NorthJersey.com journalist Daniel Munoz authored a comprehensive column dealing with AI and its potential dangers and biases in the hiring process. Included in the column was an interview with Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer (D-Mercer) a prime sponsor of this legislation.
It should be noted that the Kissinger AI book strongly recommends the auditing of AI systems by humans, rather than self-auditing by machines themselves. The human auditing can both increase the effectiveness of the AI while mitigating its dangers.
And today, on Twitter, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) stated as follows: “The power that Artificial Intelligence possesses makes it a potentially dangerous tool for people looking to spread misinformation. This is why I will be introducing legislation that looks to limit the harmful uses it has on election campaigns.”
The beneficial effects of AI are real, as are the dangers. The politics of AI is the subject of increasing focus at both the national and New Jersey level.
The Kissinger AI book is highly relevant to all AI issues, both federal and state. The three-fold focus of the book makes it an indispensable basic guide to AI politics.
First, it gives a concise, contextual definition of AI. Second, it describes in depth the potential benefits and dangers of AI. Third, it proposes some solutions of a beginning nature to deal with the emerging negative impacts of AI.
In terms of contextual definition, the Kissinger AI book describes two empirical tests of what constitutes AI.
The first is the Alan Turing test, stating that if a software process enabled a machine to operate so proficiently that observers could not distinguish its behavior from a human’s, the machine should be labeled “intelligent.”
Second is the John McCarthy test, defining AI as “machines that can perform tasks that are characteristic of human intelligence.”
The Kissinger AI book also describes the impact of AI on the reasoning process, so integral to decision making. The three components of reason are information, knowledge, and wisdom. When information becomes contextualized, it leads to knowledge. When knowledge leads to conviction, it becomes wisdom. Yet AI is without the reflection and self-awareness qualities that are essential to wisdom.
This lack of wisdom, combined with three essential features of AI magnifies its enormous danger in certain situations: 1) Its use for both warlike and peaceful purposes; 2) its massive destructive force; and 3) its capacity to be deployed and spread easily, quickly, and widely.
The most alarming feature of AI is on the horizon: the arrival of artificial general intelligence (AGI). This means AI capable of completing any intellectual task humans are capable of, in contrast to today’s “narrow” AI, which is developed to complete a specific task.
It is the growing capacity of unsupervised self-learning by AI systems which is facilitating the potential of the arrival of AGI. With AGI comes autonomy – and autonomy in weapons systems increases the potential for accidental war.
The potential of AI leading to accidental war, along with the two above mentioned dangers publicized in New Jersey of AI generated job discrimination and political disinformation are the negative aspects of AI which will receive the most focus in the forthcoming debate.
Yet AI is not without its extremely beneficial uses, most notably in the development of new prescription drugs. So the obvious task of government, federal and state, is to filter out the dangers and facilitate the beneficial uses.
As a first step, the Kissinger AI book recommends that new national governmental authorities be created with two objectives: 1) America must remain intellectually and strategically competitive in AI; and 2) Studies should be undertaken to assess the cultural implications of AI.
In New Jersey, the best way to governmentally meet this challenge would be to create a new cabinet level Department of Science, Information, and Technology.
We currently have in New Jersey the Commission on Science, Information, and Technology, which with limited funding does a most commendable job in fulfilling its mission, namely: Responsibility for strengthening the innovation economy within the State, encouraging collaboration and connectivity between industry and academia, and the translation of innovations into successful high growth businesses.
A Department of Science, Information, and Technology would have three additional powers: 1) Regulatory powers regarding auditing, self-learning, and AGI; and 2) the ability to commission more in-depth studies regarding AI cultural impact; and 3) the ability to coordinate scientific policy throughout the executive branch. Obviously, an increased level of funding would be necessary to execute these three functions.
I also have a recommendation for the first New Jersey Commissioner of Science, Innovation, and Technology, State Senator Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex). His brilliance and competence as a scientist as demonstrated from his service at the Princeton Plasma Laboratory and his proven integrity and ethics in state government make him an ideal candidate for this role.
And to Henry Kissinger, my fellow Jew, I say to you: Mazal Tov on your 100th birthday! And like Moses in the Torah, may you live at least 120 years!
Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.