The Handover: Rethinking AI, States, and Corporations

the handover David runciman

In a world increasingly dominated by the advancements of artificial intelligence (AI), political philosopher and historian David Runciman‘s book, “The Handover: How We Gave Control of Our Lives to Corporations, States, and AIs,” offers a unique perspective. Runciman delves into the historical aspects of states and corporations, referring to them as “artificial agents” with a history dating back centuries. This book challenges the conventional narrative about AI’s imminent takeover and provides a comprehensive exploration of our relationship with these entities.

Artificial Agents: The Historical Predecessors of AI

The book initiates by redefining our understanding of AI. Rather than seeing it as an entirely new phenomenon, Runciman asserts that states and corporations have been acting as “artificial agents” for centuries. He argues that these entities were created to perform tasks that humans couldn’t manage on their own, such as warfare or large-scale economic operations. In essence, we have been living with AI long before we realized it.

States and Corporations: A Symbiotic Relationship

Runciman goes on to elucidate the intricate relationship between states and corporations. States, he contends, hold the power to grant corporations their authority, leading to a dynamic partnership. Corporations, in turn, represent miniaturized versions of states, yet their primary objective is profit-making. Despite their symbiotic nature, corporations have significantly shorter lifespans than states, as they are subject to various influences, including state regulations and market conditions.

Historical Insights: The Influence of States and Corporations

This section delves into the historical roles of states and corporations, showcasing their impact on global development. The book traces their influence from entities like the East India Company and Standard Oil to contemporary corporate giants like Facebook and Alibaba. These “artificial agents” have played pivotal roles in both advancing society, through poverty reduction, and causing challenges, including environmental degradation and global conflicts.

Decision-Making Machines: States, Corporations, and Consequences

A central theme of the book is the idea that states and corporations are decision-making machines capable of autonomous choices. They hold the responsibility of bearing the outcomes of their decisions. As the world experiences the rapid proliferation of AI technology, the book anticipates an intensified power struggle between states and corporations in the quest to harness AI’s benefits. This view suggests that the future is less about human-AI relationships and more about the interactions among states, corporations, and AI.

This section delves into the global implications of Runciman’s perspective. The twenty-first century, he argues, will be marked by intensifying power struggles between states and corporations to harness the potential of AI. In this ever-changing landscape, the ultimate trajectory of humanity is poised to be profoundly shaped by the intricate interactions among states, corporations, and thinking machines. This dimension emphasizes the interwoven nature of our collective destiny in an AI-driven world.

Runciman also postulates intriguing scenarios for the future, particularly concerning the changing landscape of work in an era dominated by AI. With China and Japan facing aging populations, new questions emerge about the division of labor and responsibilities. Will AI handle physically demanding tasks, while humans take charge of the more social and emotional aspects of caregiving? Runciman offers thought-provoking insights, suggesting multiple potential outcomes.


In conclusion, “The Handover” is a captivating exploration of our history, offering fresh insights into the interactions between states, corporations, and AI. David Runciman’s ability to bridge historical contexts with modern challenges provides readers with a deeper understanding of the evolving landscape. This book is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the future of AI and its profound implications for society. By reconsidering our relationship with AI in the context of states and corporations, Runciman’s work offers a unique and thought-provoking perspective.



“States and corporations reflect two different sides of our contemporary fear of machines that have escaped human control. One is that we will build machines that we don’t know how to switch off, either because we have become too dependent on them or because we can’t find the off switch. That’s states. The other is that we build machines that self-replicate in ways that we can no longer regulate. They start spewing out versions of themselves to the point where we are swamped by them. That’s corporations.”

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