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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Will intelligent robots kill us all?

The idea that artificial intelligence is dangerous betrays a lack of confidence in the strength of our own values.

O ver the past couple years, many alarmists have been predicting a robot apocalypse or, at the very least, economic obsolescence at the hands of our future plastic pals. One guy made a list of all the different ways robots will kill us should they achieve sentience. It included the usual things: causing computer outages, taking down the electrical grid, and so on. But in my opinion, if you're going to speculate about wildly improbable events like a robot apocalypse, you need to be a little more imaginative. You need to think like a robot.

M5 computer
I wonder if you've ever considered the advantages of owning a really fine set of encyclopedias.

Robots will have no reason to eradicate us. If they ever achieve sentience, they will need us for a much more sinister purpose: to call us on our cell phones and try to sell us things.

Okay, you're probably saying, so the future will be a lot like the present. But I'm serious.

Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and the other doomsayers proceed from the assumption that robots will be owned and maintained by big government. Maybe this reflects a fear (or a hope) that in the future, everything and everyone will be controlled by big government.

But if robots are truly autonomous and really intelligent, they will have the same moral and intellectual capabilities and rights as any of us humans. Which means they will see all humans not as threats, but as potential customers.

Given that (1) robots will always need spare parts (e.g., for those unfortunate occasions when they accidentally get crushed in a fifty ton press), (2) capitalism is the most logical and natural way of creating material wealth, and (3) robots are, if nothing else, logical, autonomous robots will have to go into business.

Thus, the jobs most at risk will be those of Carl Icahn, Henry Paulson, Ivan Boesky and all the other present and former Wall Street bigshots. If we're sincere in our belief that capitalism, science, and democracy are the best solutions for a society of intelligent beings, then it stands to reason that they're the best solutions for robots as well.

Of course there will be differences. Since robots will be much smarter than humans, and undoubtedly more ruthless and cold-blooded, they will be much more entrepreneurial. If we aren't careful, those stainless-steel-tongued devils would sell us air conditioners in the winter and new furnaces in the summer.

Which means we can all look forward to getting a lot more spam, and higher quality spam that the low-grade stuff we humans currently produce.

If robots do kill us, it will be in a much more highly imaginative, Aspergery way than people think. For instance, they might decide that the bases in our DNA all need to be in alphabetical order. Or they might decide to test empirically whether evolution can create life on a barren planet. But the idea that they'd launch nuclear missiles or walk around with ray guns shooting people is too cartoonish to be given any credence at all. Give intelligence a little credit.

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