The race for an artificial general intelligence: implications for public policy

Wim Naudé*, N. Dimitri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


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. Thus, 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 outcome (prize), is important. The possibility of an intermediate prize will raise 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 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. This will help to 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 patenting by AI.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)367-379
Number of pages13
JournalAI and Society
Issue number2
Early online date2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

JEL classifications

  • l86 - "Information and Internet Services; Computer Software"
  • d80 - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty: General
  • o31 - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
  • o33 - "Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes"
  • o38 - Technological Change: Government Policy


  • Artificial intelligence
  • Innovation
  • Public policy
  • Technology
  • Artificial general intelligences
  • High tech
  • Legal frameworks
  • Political problems
  • Public procurement

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