Robots, eh? Sometimes they look like Austrian bodybuilders. Sometimes they look like Gemma Chan in Humans. Either way, they have a tendency to go rogue and start force-resetting their masters. The good news is it’s not just fiction: we really should fear the rise of the machines. At least, according to some very smart people. The question is: whose side are you on?
The founder of Microsoft, philanthropist and notorious chair-jumper is “concerned” by the prospect of machine super-intelligence. He believes that machines will initially “do a lot of jobs for us and not be super-intelligent,” a situation which “should be positive if we manage it well.” But they’ll get smarter, and quickly.
“A few decades after that, though, the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern…[I] don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”
Bitter irony: Not only did Gates usher in the new age of computing, Skynet will almost certainly be based on Clippy the annoying paper clip from Microsoft Word.
If he wanted, Elon Musk would make a great supervillain. The cofounder of PayPal and Tesla has his own private space agency. He wants to make a supersonic magnetic train, for goodness sake. That’s pure Bond villain.
Luckily, he uses his powers for good. Musk is the most vocal of the current AI-naysayers, calling the development “summoning the demon” and “potentially more dangerous than nukes.” He even donated $10 million to fund investigations into possible negative consequences. He then slightly undercut his dire warnings by quoting Michael Palin:
“In the movie Terminator, they didn’t expect some sort of Terminator-like outcome. It is sort of like the Monty Python thing: nobody expects the Spanish inquisition.”
Bitter irony: The batteries developed for the Tesla electric cars are powerful enough to keep Arnie terminating all day. And who do you think will be first against the wall come Judgement Day?
Stephen Hawking relies on artificial intelligence to allow him to speak, but the physicist is conflicted. As he explained in an interview with the BBC, the software he uses predicts his next word, which might actually limit his scope for self-expression. Oh, and he believes AI could end humanity:
“The primitive forms of artificial intelligence we already have, have proved very useful. But I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”
Once machines can design and improve themselves, they could theoretically get smarter at an exponential rate. This moment is known by many as the ‘singularity’. Whereas we rely on time and Darwin to evolve, AI could hit unimaginable levels very quickly. As Hawking explained:
“One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand.”
Bitter irony: Hawking’s work in quantum mechanics and relativity will put Sarah Connor’s life in danger.
The planet is now run on data, and nowhere is this more true than in the frantic world of Wall Street traders. Theoretically a machine should be able to see patterns and make decisions far faster and more accurately than fleshblobs.
A new breed of tech-savvy young money-makers are now testing programmes that can work the market, and learn from their mistakes. As one 27-year-old whizz kid explained in an interview with the Wall Street Journal: “It’s pretty clear that human beings aren’t improving, but computers and algorithms are only getting faster and more robust.”
Well that’s not terrifying at all.
Bitter irony: Cold, heartless and a danger to society, Wall Street traders are robots already.
Along with the military (think drones and this horrific contraption), healthcare is a major area for the development of robotics and artificial intelligence. Dozens of R2-D2 style robots now patrol the hallways of a children’s hospital in San Francisco, ferrying supplies and guiding visitors. More advanced models should be able to carry patients.
But more than mere porters, artificial intelligence can also be companions. Japanese researchers are investigating how empathetic robots could help stave off loneliness in the elderly, as well as give 24-fingered head massages. In the film Robot and Frank, an OAP teaches his robot the art of cat burglary. Well, it’s good to stay active.
Bitter irony: Granny can’t turn on a laptop, but her robot will end the world
Hollywood has always used artificial intelligence as a bogeyman. From Metropolis to HAL 9000 to Avengers: Age of Ultron, AI has powered many of our greatest screen villains. But now we have basic forms of artificial intelligence on our phones, and Amazon want to install an omniscient computerised assistant in your house. Joaquin Phoenix fell in love with his operating system (and Siri got jealous). Facebook’s algorithms now cater to your own tastes and Google spent $500 million on Deep Mind, a British company whose technology learns how to be more human, in order to serve humans better.
These days, artificial intelligence doesn’t mean Skynet. It means smartphones that know what you want before you want it, cars that drive you home, sentient walls ordering pizza and Twitter accounts that resurrect dead loved ones. The promise of artificial intelligence is an easy, comfortable life watched over by Machines of Loving Grace.
Armageddon comes later.
Bitter irony: You fools. You fools. You’ll doom us all.