Editor’s Humble Opinion: The Coming Technology Wave is a TSUNAMI


About The Containment Problem

“This situation needs worldwide popular attention. It needs answers, answers that no one yet has. Containment is not, on the face of it, possible. And yet for all our sakes, containment must be possible.” — Mustafa Suleyman

This ground-breaking book from the ultimate AI insider establishes ‘the containment problem’ – the task of maintaining control over powerful technologies – as the essential challenge of our age. FT

NEW BOOK: The Coming Wave: the ground-breaking book from the ultimate AI insider

AI. SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY. QUANTUM COMPUTING. Everything is about to change. This is the only book you need to understand this new world.

From the ultimate AI insider, Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind, part of Google.

‘Fascinating, well-written, and important’ Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens
‘Deeply rewarding and consistently astonishing’ Stephen Fry
‘An excellent guide for navigating unprecedented times’ Bill Gates

Soon you will live surrounded by AIs. They will organise your life, operate your business, and run core government services. You will live in a world of DNA printers and quantum computers, engineered pathogens and autonomous weapons, robot assistants and abundant energy.

None of us are prepared.

The Coming Wave (11:55)
by Mustafa Suleyman

From one of AI’s leading entrepreneurs, The Coming Wave is an urgent warning of how a wave of AI and synthetic biology will transform the world, introducing new risks, threatening the nation state and leading humanity towards catastrophe or dystopia. Mustafa Suleyman sets out the existential dilemma of our times and describes how only “containment” can save us.


TRANSCRIPT: The Coming Wave (11:55) – autogenerated by YouTube

Starting to crash around us is a new wave of Technology centered on AI and synthetic biology. This wave is unleashing the power of two Universal foundations. A wave of nothing less than intelligence and life itself. I’m Mustafa Suleiman co-founder of Deepmind and Inflection AI. As an AI entrepreneur I’ve devoted my life to building new technology. I’ve been at the heart of the AI Revolution since it felt like a fringe discussion for a small group of researchers almost a decade and a half ago. Now with my book The Coming Wave I want to tell the story of technology in the 21st century and begin to suggest how we might be able to make sure this is one that ends well.

Here are some of the crucial ideas. It’s no exaggeration to say that the coming wave will usher in a new dawn for Humanity creating wealth and surplus unlike anything we’ve ever seen. These technologies will offer extraordinary new medical advances and clean energy breakthroughs. They’ll create not just new businesses but new Industries and quality of life improvements in almost every imaginable area. And yet their rapid proliferation also threatens to empower a diverse array of Bad actors to produce disruption, instability and even catastrophe. This wave creates an immense dilemma that will Define the century ahead of us. Our future both depends on these Technologies and yet it is also imperiled by them.

For most of History Technologies challenge lay in creating and unleashing its power. With this new wave that’s flipped. The challenge is now about containing Technologies Unleashed power ensuring it continues to serve us and our planet. I call this the containment problem. The difficult task of checking a new Technology’s Ripple of unintended consequences, containment is the overarching ability to monitor control and limit technology at any stage of its development or deployment. In some circumstances containment may even mean stopping a technology from proliferating in the first place. History shows us that this is far from normal. Instead, from the first campfires, to the Sparks of the internal combustion engine, from the first scrawled letters, to the endless text of the internet, technology has an inevitable trajectory: Mass diffusion in Great roiling Waves. This pattern holds from the earliest flint and Bone tools to the latest AI models. People want more better easier cheaper costs for capabilities. Rise. Experiment. Repeat. Use. Grow. Improve. Adapt. Try as we might to resist it this is the inescapable evolutionary nature of Technology it always spreads far and wide. This is what we can expect in the coming wave today.

AI is growing in power. Large language models produce text with a coherence that just a few years ago would have seemed incredible. AI can write code, generate stunning images and compose music. It’s managing our traffic, running our warehouses and diagnosing rare conditions. In just a few years AI models have gone from hundreds of millions to trillions of parameters even as they have become smaller and more efficient. Large language models are the fastest diffusing consumer technology we have ever seen. AI is moving more quickly than even industry experts can track or predict. Now this exponential change is expanding to biotech, robotics, quantum computing and even new energy sources. The cost of sequencing DNA for example has collapsed. We now have a growing ability to synthesize it to write the code of life and create completely new organic life forms. This wave is driven by deep incentives, led by the US and China, a geopolitical race for dominance is already underway. AI and synthetic biology will likewise create a massive economic boom, a tempting prize for those that create and wield them. They are part of a distributed system of research spurring on their development and they will help address pressing global challenges. This is why the coming wave really is coming.

But this wave is also different from those of the past. These tools are marked by four key features making their containment especially hard. FIRST, they evolve dizzyingly fast. SECOND they enable massively asymmetric impacts. THIRD, they are inherently general working across every area of society, and FOURTH they are starting to display signs of autonomy. Each exacerbates the challenge of controlling them. Collectively these Technologies offer a step change in human potential if the internet gave everyone the ability to broadcast the new wave gives people the ability to do things on an unprecedented scale. As a result, these technologies deliver nothing less than a radical proliferation of power. We are not prepared.

It’s no secret these technologies give bad actors a new toolkit, spur on a surge of misinformation and take away jobs. While they deliver immense benefits they will also amplify societal fragility. They could even present an existential threat to the nation-state introducing risks so profound they may even disrupt or overturn the current political order. At the same time they open pathways to AI empowered cyber attacks, automated Wars that could devastate countries, engineered pandemics and a world at the mercy of unexplainable and yet seemingly omnipotent forces. The likelihood of each may be small but the possible consequences are huge even a slim chance of outcomes like these require serious attention.

Presented with scenarios like this people often have a natural pessimism, aversion, a tendency to dismiss such assessments as overblown scaremongering. But this is the reality of what’s coming. Faced with it we’re seemingly left with two unwelcome endpoints. On the one hand a surveillance state stamping out any risk at the expense of freedoms and progress. On the other an eventual catastrophe born of runaway development. This is the Dilemma at the heart of the 21st Century, Can the world find a narrow path between these two outcomes? Can we strike a balance between openness and closure? Doing so is an urgent generational challenge on par with the climate crisis.

So where to start from? Where I’m standing I think we need a containment program working in 10 concentric layers. It starts close in with technological specifics and moves out from there to the level of international movements. This is not a complete picture or a ready-made answer but an outline sketch to prompt further discussion. These steps are the following

  • One, technical safety measures built into the tools themselves concrete means to ensure safe outcomes,
  • Two, audit mechanisms that ensure a Technology’s transparency and accountability,
  • Three, if necessary we should use choke points on the whole ecosystem to buy time for regulators and defensive Technologies production of advanced chips for example is concentrated in a single Taiwanese Factory which gives us more power to restrict it if needed,
  • Four, who builds technology matters we need responsible committed makers Technology’s biggest critics invested in actually making contain technology not just looking in from the outside,
  • Five, at the company level having the right incentives in place is tricky but going beyond a heedless commercial race shaping those corporate structures to deliver contained technology is nonetheless vital,
  • Six, regulation is absolutely essential. Governments will have to license these technologies getting involved at every stage of their creation and deployment,
  • Seven, international treaties up to and including new global institutions mediating between national governments or another must have,
  • Eight, we need to cultivate the right culture around technology making the precautionary principle an ingrained part of the whole ecosystem not an optional add-on,
  • Nine, social movements have always been part of widespread change now once again everyone can play a part in pushing for the future we want building a broad coalition for a better technology,
  • Ten, lastly all these measures need to cohere adding up to a comprehensive integrated program.

None of this will be easy. But do so and we forge a narrow path to a secure and flourishing human future.

What would have once been centuries or millennia of technological change is now happening in a matter of years or even months. Consequences ricochet around the world in hours or seconds.

Think of containment then as a set of interlinked and mutually reinforcing mechanisms for maintaining human and societal control of technology during this time of exponential change.

Without containment every other aspect of Technology every discussion of its ethical shortcomings or the benefits it could bring is inconsequential.

We urgently need watertight answers for how the coming wave can be controlled and contained, for how the safeguards of the democratic nation-state can be saved.

Answers I believe that no one yet has.

We can already see the wave emerging. Look at the history of technology.

Look at the raw power of the coming wave and containment appears impossible.

But follow the implications and something else becomes equally clear. For all our sakes containment must be possible.

Reviews. Praise for The Coming Wave

“A heartfelt and candid exploration of what the future may hold for us… Eloquently articulated.”

The Guardian

“Dazzling… You have by now read a great deal of both hype and doom-mongering on the subject [of AI]. But Suleyman’s is the book you cannot afford not to read… Brilliant.”

Niall Ferguson, Bloomberg

“[Suleyman] states his case with clarity and authority, and the result is a worrying, provocative book… An informative yet disturbing study and a clear warning from someone whose voice cannot be ignored.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“The Coming Wave is a fascinating, well-written, and important book. It explores the existential dangers that AI and biotechnology pose to humankind, and offers practical solutions for how we can contain the threat. The coming technological wave promises to provide humanity with godlike powers of creation, but if we fail to manage it wisely, it may destroy us.”

Yuval Noah Harari, New York Times bestselling author of Sapiens and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

“AI will change the way we work, communicate, learn, travel, and access health care. It’s an incredibly exciting opportunity, but we have to proceed thoughtfully. The Coming Wave serves as an excellent guide for navigating unprecedented times.”

Bill Gates, Co-founder of Microsoft

“The AI revolution is underway, but how well do we really understand it? The Coming Wave offers an erudite, clear-eyed guide both to the history of radical technological change and to the deep political challenges that lie ahead.”

Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian

“This important book is a vivid wake-up call. It carefully outlines the threats and opportunities associated with the exhilarating scientific advances of recent years. The Coming Wave is rich with interesting facts, arresting arguments, and compelling observations; it is essential reading.”

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and bestselling author of Thinking Fast and Slow

“This wake-up call from the future warns of just what’s coming, and what the global economic and political implications are likely to be. Truly remarkable, ambitious, and impossible to ignore, this book is a persuasively argued tour de force from a leading industry expert that will shape your view of the future—and rewire your understanding of the present.”

Nouriel Roubini, Professor emeritus at New York University

“Mustafa Suleyman’s insight as a technologist, entrepreneur, and visionary is essential. Deeply researched and highly relevant, this book provides gripping insight into some of the most important challenges of our time.”

Al Gore, Former vice president of the United States

“In this bold book, Mustafa Suleyman, one of high tech’s true insiders, addresses the most important paradox of our time: we have to contain uncontainable technologies. As he explains, generative AI, synthetic biology, robotics, and other innovations are improving and spreading quickly. They bring great benefits, but also real and growing risks.Suleyman is wise enough to know that there’s no simple three-point plan for managing these risks, and brave enough to tell us so. This book is honest, passionate, and unafraid to confront what is clearly one of the great challenges our species will face this century. Thanks to Suleyman we know what the situation is and what our options are. Now it’s up to us to act.”

Andrew McAfee, Principal research scientist at MIT Sloan; author of The Geek Way

“When this landed in my inbox, I cleared the diary and got reading. This is an extraordinary and necessary book; the awe-inspiring thought is that in twenty years it will seem almost like a conservative vision of the future, whereas right now, reading it is impossible without pausing every few pages to wonder: Can this be true? It’s the book’s genius to explain, soberly and gently, that yes, this will all be true—and why and how. The tone is gentle and kind and sympathetic to the reader’s sense of shock. There are terrifying moments, as there should be when one realizes that most of what is familiar is about to be transformed. But, ultimately, one leaves energized and thrilled to be alive right now. The wave is about to hit and this is the forecast.”

Alain de Botton, Philosopher and bestselling author

“The Coming Wave offers a much-needed dose of specificity, realism, and clarity about the potential unanticipated and yet disastrous consequences of artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, and other advanced technologies. This important book is a vivid and persuasive road map for how human beings might guide technological innovations rather than be controlled by them.”

Martha Minow, Harvard professor; former dean of Harvard Law School

“Nobody has been closer to the unfolding AI revolution than Mustafa Suleyman, and nobody is better placed to outline the risks and rewards of the huge technological changes happening right now. This is an extraordinary and utterly unmissable guide to this unique moment in human history.”

Eric Schmidt, Former CEO of Google; co-author of The Age of AI

“In The Coming Wave, Mustafa Suleyman offers a powerful argument that today’s explosive technological revolution is poised to be uniquely disruptive. Read this essential book to understand the pace and scale of these technologies—how they will proliferate across our society and their potential to challenge the fabric of the institutions that organize our world.”

Ian Bremmer, Founder of Eurasia Group; bestselling author of The Power of Crisis

“This vital book is inspiring and terrifying at the same time. It is a critical education for those who do not understand the technological revolutions through which we are living, and a frontal challenge to those who do. This book is about the future for all of us: we need to read it and act on it.”

David Miliband, Former U.K. foreign secretary

“Presenting a stark assessment of the dangers as well as the wonders of AI, Mustafa Suleyman proposes an urgent agenda of actions governments must take now to constrain the most potentially catastrophic applications of this revolutionary challenge.”

Graham Allison, Harvard professor; bestselling author of Destined for War

“The rapid pace of exponential technologies has overwhelmed us with its power and its peril. Mustafa Suleyman, in tracing the history of industrial development to the dizzying acceleration of the recent technological advances, gives us the bigger picture in calm, pragmatic, and deeply ethical prose. His personal journey and experiences enhance The Coming Wave and make it enthralling reading for everyone wanting to step back from the daily onrush of tech news.”

Angela Kane, Former United Nations under-secretary-general and high representative for Disarmament Affairs

“An incredibly compelling window into the current developments and exponential future of AI—from the ultimate insider… If you really want to understand how society can safely navigate this world-changing technology, read this book.”

Bruce Schneier, Cybersecurity expert; author of A Hacker’s Mind

“The coming wave of AI and synthetic biology will make the next decade the best in human history. Or the worst. No one recognizes and explains the epic challenges ahead better than Mustafa Suleyman. Thought-provoking, urgent, and written in powerful, highly accessible prose, this is a must-read book for anyone interested in understanding the staggering power of these technologies.”

Erik Brynjolfsson, Professor, Stanford Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence

“One of the greatest challenges facing the world is to devise forms of governance that harness the benefits of AI and biotech while avoiding their catastrophic risks. This book provides a deeply thoughtful account of the ‘containment challenge’ of these two technologies. It is meticulously researched and packed with original insights and constructive recommendations for policy makers and security experts.”

Jason Matheny. CEO of RAND; former assistant director of national intelligence; former director of IARPA

” If you want to understand the meaning, promise, and threat of the coming tidal wave of transformative technologies that are even now swelling and converging out there on the main, then this deeply rewarding and consistently astonishing book by Mustafa Suleyman, one of the key pioneers of artificial intelligence, is an absolutely essential read.”

Stephen Fry, Actor, broadcaster, and bestselling author

“The Coming Wave is a fantastically clear, energetic, well-researched, and readable book from the front line of the greatest technological revolution of our times. It weaves the personal and technological stories seamlessly, and shows why better governance of immensely powerful technologies is both so vital and so hard.”

Sir Geoff Mulgan, Professor at University College London

“The best analysis yet of what AI means for the future of humanity… Mustafa Suleyman is unique as the co-founder of not one but two major contemporary AI companies. He is a profoundly talented entrepreneur, a deep thinker, and one of the most important voices on the coming wave of technologies that will shape our world.”

Reid Hoffman, Co-founder of LinkedIn and Inflection

“Technology is rapidly transforming society, and hence it’s more important than ever to see someone within the technology industry write with such honesty and rigor. Taking us from the earliest tools to the heart of the present explosion in AI capabilities and research, this book is a panoramic survey and a clarion call to action impossible to ignore. Everyone should read it.”

Fei-Fei Li, Professor of computer science at Stanford University, co-director of the Institute for Human-Centered AI

“The Coming Wave makes an eye-opening and convincing case that advanced technologies are reshaping every aspect of society: power, wealth, warfare, work, and even human relations. Can we control these new technologies before they control us? A world leader in artificial intelligence and a longtime advocate for governments, big tech, and civil society to act for the common good, Mustafa Suleyman is the ideal guide to this crucial question.”

Jeffrey D.Sachs, University Professor at Columbia University, president of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network

“A sharp, compassionate, and uncompromising framing of the most consequential issue of our times, The Coming Wave is a must-read for technology practitioners, but more importantly it is a resolute call to action for all of us to participate in this most consequential discourse.”

Qi Lu, CEO of MiraclePlus, ex-COO of Baidu, ex-EVP of Microsoft Bing

“Suleyman is uniquely well-positioned to articulate the potentially grave consequences—geopolitical upheaval, war, the erosion of the nation-state—of the unfettered development of AI and synthetic biology, at a time when we need this message most. Fortunately for the reader, he has also thought deeply about what needs to be done to ensure that emerging technologies are used for human good, setting forward a series of incremental efforts that if undertaken collectively can change the environment in which these technologies are developed and disseminated, opening the door to preserving that brighter future. This book is a must-read.”

Meghan L.O’Sullivan, Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government

“A brave wake-up call that we all need to answer—before it’s too late… Mustafa Suleyman explains, with clarity and precision, the risks posed by runaway technologies and the challenges that humanity faces… Indispensable reading.”

Tristan Harris, Co-founder and executive director of the Center for Humane Technology

“A practical and optimistic road map for action on the most important issue of our time: how to retain power over entities far more powerful than ourselves.”

Stuart Russell, Professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley

“The Coming Wave is a realistic, deeply informed, and highly accessible map of the unprecedented governance and national security challenges posed by artificial intelligence and synthetic biology. Suleyman’s remarkable and in some senses frightening book shows what must be done to contain these seemingly uncontainable technologies.”

Jack Goldsmith, Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University

“Brilliant and inviting, complex and clear, urgent and calm, The Coming Wave guides us all to understand and confront what may be the most crucial question of our century: How can we ensure that the breathtaking, fast-paced technological revolutions ahead—AI, synthetic biology, and more—create the world we want? It’s not going to be easy, but Suleyman lays a strong foundation. Everyone who cares about the future should read this book.”

Eric Lander, Founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and former White House science advisor

“A strikingly lucid and refreshingly balanced account of our current technological predicament, The Coming Wave articulates the defining challenge of our era. Blending pragmatism with humility, it reminds us that there are no stark binaries or simple answers: technology has gifted us with exponential improvements in well-being, but it’s accelerating faster than institutions can adapt. Advances in AI and synthetic biology have unlocked capabilities undreamed of by science fiction, and the resulting proliferation of power threatens everything we’ve built.To stay afloat, we must steer between the Scylla of accessible catastrophe and the Charybdis of omnipresent surveillance. With every page turned, our odds improve.”

Kevin Esvelt, Biologist and associate professor at MIT Media Lab

“The Coming Wave is a masterpiece and a must-read for every leader grappling with today’s reality. Mustafa Suleyman, a leading AI pioneer, takes us on a compelling dive into what is by turns the most promising and most threatening development of our time. With a confident hand, he both zooms out to the big picture and zooms into the essential details about AI, synthetic biology and robotics. His penetrating observations about the challenges are followed by clear recommendations for the approach we must take in order to tackle them successfully.”

Ehud Barak, Former prime minister of Israel

“This book is a masterclass for policymakers on the great technological challenges already upon us and what they mean for geopolitics.”

Kevin Rudd, Former prime minister of Australia

My review of THE COMING WAVE. a unique book (with Michael Bhaskar) on the future of AI called THE COMING WAVE. I say unique because of 2 major points: (1) it is the only AI book that I’ve read which integrates the two different languages—life science (genomics, synthetic biology, genome editing, CRISPR, ACTG) and what is center-stage, the exceptionally broad digital (0110101) applications; and (2) it’s a healthy balance of optimism and deep concerns, offering many thoughtful, concrete steps towards containment. [A couple of quotes from the book to reflect that: “A choice between a future of unparalleled possibility and a future of unimaginable peril” (p. 18) and ”I believe this is the great meta-problem of the 21st century” (p. 25)].”

Eric Topol M.D., Executive VP, Scripps Research Professor, Molecular Medicine, Scripps Research; Director & Founder, Scripps Research Translational Institute; Senior Consultant, Scripps Clinic, Division of Cardiovascular Diseases Department of Molecular Medicine

Learn more:

‘We need AI to be held accountable,’ says DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman – o7 July 2023

Artificial intelligence could bring chaos and conflict, and companies developing it need to accept regulation to control it – that’s according to one of the leading entrepreneurs who’s pioneered the technology. Mustafa Suleyman says it could also transform our lives – if we use it properly. And there’s huge money at stake. The global AI market was valued at 142.3 billion U.S. dollars in 2023 – and that’s expected to mushroom. Major companies are investing and integrating AI into their work, including some of the world’s biggest names – Google, BT, Uber, Deutsche Bank, Amazon, Meta and many more. Governments across the world are discussing how AI will be managed as it becomes more prevalent in our everyday lives – from creating music to reading scans, from smartphones, cars and banking. Or will AI manage us?

Google’s DeepMind Co-founder: AI Is Becoming More Dangerous And Threatening! – Mustafa Suleyman – 04 sept 2023

It really does feel like a new species. And that has to be brought under control. We cannot allow ourselves to be dislodged from our position as the dominant species on this planet. (23:33)

We collectively in the industry, those of us who are closest to the work, can see a place in five years or ten years where it could get out of control and we have to get on top of it now. (28:17)

What I care about, I care about science. I care about facts. I care about describing the world as I see it. And what I’ve set out to do in the book is describe a set of interlocking incentives which drive a technology production process which produces potentially really dangerous outcomes. And what I’m trying to do is frame those outcomes in the context of the containment problem and say this is the big challenge of the 21st century. Containment is the challenge. And if it isn’t possible then we have serious issues. And on the face of it, like I’ve said in the book, I mean the first chapter is called containment is not possible right, the last chapter is called containment must be possible for all our sakes. It must be possible. But that but I agree with you that I’m not I’m not saying it is. I’m saying this is what we have to be working on. We have no choice. We have no choice but to work on this problem. This is a critical problem. (1:27:10)