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Cybersecurity is important because computing systems comprise the backbone of the modern economy. If the security of the internet was compromised, then the economy would suffer a tremendous blow.
Similarly, AI Safety might become important as AI systems begin forming larger and larger parts of the modern economy. As more and more labor gets automated, it becomes more and more important to ensure that that labor is occurring in a safe and robust way.
Before the widespread adoption of computing systems, lack of Cybersecurity didn’t cause much damage. However, it might have been beneficial to start thinking about Cybersecurity problems before the solutions were necessary.
Similarly, since AI systems haven’t been adopted en mass yet, lack of AI Safety isn’t causing harm. However, given that AI systems will become increasingly powerful and increasingly widespread, it might be prudent to try to solve safety problems before a catastrophe occurs.
Additionally, people sometimes think about Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), sometimes called Human-Level Artificial Intelligence (HLAI). One of the core problems in AI Safety is ensuring when AGI gets built, it has human interests at heart. (Note that most surveyed experts think building GI/HLAI is possible, but there is wide disagreement on how soon this might occur).