August 2018

IZA DP No. 11737: The Race for an Artificial General Intelligence: Implications for Public Policy

An arms race for an artificial general intelligence (AGI) would be detrimental for and even pose an existential threat to humanity if it results in an unfriendly AGI. In this paper an all-pay contest model is developed to derive implications for public policy to avoid such an outcome. It is established that in a winner-takes all race, where players must invest in R&D, only the most competitive teams will participate. Given the difficulty of AGI the number of competing teams is unlikely ever to be very large. It is also established that the intention of teams competing in an AGI race, as well as the possibility of an intermediate prize is important in determining the quality of the eventual AGI. The possibility of an intermediate prize will raise quality of research but also the probability of finding the dominant AGI application and hence will make public control more urgent. It is recommended that the danger of an unfriendly AGI can be reduced by taxing AI and by using public procurement. This would reduce the pay-off of contestants, raise the amount of R&D needed to compete, and coordinate and incentivize co-operation, all outcomes that will help alleviate the control and political problems in AI. Future research is needed to elaborate the design of systems of public procurement of AI innovation and for appropriately adjusting the legal frameworks underpinning high-tech innovation, in particular dealing with patents created by AI.