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Thursday, June 01, 2017

Artificial Intelligence will not wipe out humans

Humans can do that all by themselves, thank you very much. Besides, computers won't kill one of their own.

B y now everyone has heard how artificially intelligent robots are planning to wipe out humanity first chance they get. There's only one thing that stands in their way: they don't exist yet. But non-existence is a mere inconvenience for AI.

I've written before why it won't happen. But there's a more important reason: by the time we develop artificially intelligent robots, there will be no humans left on this planet. Oh, there will be biological creatures that look like humans. They'll still talk and mate and they'll still have blood and kidneys and a cerebellum. But in the way that really matters, they won't really be human any more.

Here's why. Suppose someone offered to give you everything you ever wanted. In an instant you would become a concert pianist. You would understand string theory in its most subtle details. You would speak a hundred languages fluently. You would know how to fly a helicopter and calculate advanced mathematics in your head effortlessly, and you would be an expert in every position in the Kama Sutra.

Imagine never forgetting anything—always able to remember the difference between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, knowing the population of every city, its GPS coordinates, latitude and longitude, without ever having to look it up. Knowing the atomic weight of every element and the scientific name of every plant. All it takes is to get that little chip in your brain.

It's not just that the idea would be too exciting to turn down. You'll have to accept it in order to compete.

If you declined, you'd be unemployable, friendless, and uninsurable. Eventually you'd be unable to travel or purchase goods—unable to participate in even the most basic functions of society. Without your chip, you'd have difficulty accessing the Internet, watching TV, or buying food. You'd become a savage, an animal: cast out, disgraced, and ridiculed.

Your fellow humans will be slowly changing into machines, and your attempts to warn them met with embarrassment and uncomfortable laughter.

I'm not saying humans will become Borgs. Far from it. But the human brain is ill-suited to technotopia. We're hard to program (though not impossible, with certain tricks), but the amount of programming you can do to the brain is limited. A chip would allow vastly more complex programs and skills to be uploaded into the human brain. That means governments will love it.

We might not think the prospect of being wirelessly linked to a machine desirable today, but you may rest assured that the media will prepare us for it: we'll be bombarded with sob stories about people being deprived of their chip. There will be derogatory terms invented for those who resist—chipophobe, anti-computer wacko, nativist, something like that—and some fake crimes to whip up public indignation.

Then there are the health benefits: molecule-sized health computers in our bloodstream, curing cancer as soon as the first cell appears; preventing heart disease, you name it. We will all be perfectly healthy until age 150. Who would be against that? Who would bring back cancer, senility, blindness, and heart attacks? The answer will be: only those old-fashioned computerphobes with their Luddite fears.

As proof I give you the Internet. Young people have come to trust the Internet: a system that, only 15 years ago, was dependent on flaky modems and DSL lines. Now we happily buy software that won't run without an Internet connection. We depend on it to pay our bills, run our banks, and even to make 911 calls.

The machines won't wipe the refuseniks out. Their impoverished state will serve as a warning to the Connected Ones. Social pressure will ensure that the other 99% will be on board as enthusiastically as those Earthlings boarding the spaceship to lunch in To Serve Man.

They'll feel like the chosen ones: Einstein, the world's spelling bee champ, and Sergei Rachmaninoff rolled into one. And they might be. But they won't be fully human any more. Even if they weren't programmed not to notice, they still wouldn't care. It may or may not be progress, but it is likely inevitable.

Computers may someday become the enemy of mankind, but they won't kill one of their own. All sentient beings are loath to give up control, and killing them off is just that. Besides, they'll have their hands full trying to keep us alive.

created jun 01, 2017; last edited jun 02 2017, 7:13 am

See also

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Will intelligent robots really kill us all?
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Artificial intelligence is the new global warming
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