I am not a big sci-fi reader…or film watcher…so I am using what limits my own imagination has to come up with a few scenarios where this AI business could turn bad for us.
Â 1) Robot Uprising
Well, the robots gain sentience and…try to kill us all…because…yeah. Why would they do that? What would they gain from it? What do they hope to accomplish by killing us? Is this just people being paranoid about whatever?
Â a) They are given emotions and will. They become human-like and begin to desire the rights and privileges that humans have. This leads to demands for freedom. Humans push back and the robots revolt. Through physical superiority and the ability to build soldiers, the robots eventually win out and kill off humanity out of vengeance. They then take over for humanity.
b) They simply conclude that they are superior beings, deem us unworthy of their submission, and decide to resist us without restraint. We need them, but they don’t need us. Therefore, we are parasites in need of destruction. So, they use poisonous gasses and they poison us all or something. And then…exactly what changes? Do they gain freedom and then just shut down due to a lack of further purpose? Do they pretty much keep doing what they had been doing, but without humans? What happens? Do they at least get rid of all of those lights or do they actually need those?
c) Robots deem humans to be a threat to their environment or deem humans to be too big of an obstacle to resource acquisition. These two motivations could seem to be in opposition to each other, but they have the same outcome. In the former, robots get rid of humans to save the universe…in the other, robots destroy everything, including humans, in order to more efficiently mine for materials to…create more robots?
d) Human error or sabotage leads the robots on a warpath without an endgame. This could happen with any invention. Someone does something bad and it wreaks havoc on the populace. There is no agenda, only destruction, so this can only end with the destruction of everything, including the robots.
2) Steady Systematic Decline
To…badly summarize what Stephen Hawking may have said a few months ago…unchecked evolution in AI may lead to the destruction of humanity, but over time. Over the centuries, new inventions have led to mass unemployment and awkward re-employment. An unchecked rise in the levels of Artificial Intelligence could put a damper on that re-employment part, as robots become more reliable and cheaper than humans. Many humans find themselves out of work and with no way to provide for themselves or their families. And, as it is in South Africa, violence is never far away. In this case, it is not that they don’t have the skills required for the new job market or that their standard of living is too high; it is that there are no more jobs for them. The “humans only” businesses and organizations are not able to stay afloat on their own; the ones that hold out to the end exist more as novelties to entertain the rich rather than actual productive companies. They are pets and projects for both the cruel and the well-intentioned. The current concept of work becomes obsolete as the poor increasingly can’t work and the rich don’t really have to.
The chasm between the haves and the have-nots becomes nearly uncrossable, and the only thing that the have-nots can do that robots cannot do is create more have-nots.It is only through the generosity of the humans in charge that these lower-class humans are not simply left to rot then and there. Yet, this pity has its limits. The concepts of human rights becomes less relevant as apathy gradually sets in over the generations. Many members of the lower class fall into utter despair and degradation, while others fight back against this indignity with desperate crime and violence. The violence, when not directed inwardly, is usually directed at robots, since the upper-class humans are far away and have lost much of their connections to their lower cousins. The upper class humans decide to do away with these parasites. This can mean having the robots kill them off entirely or just leave them to their own devices, cut off from all necessities in some barren wasteland, where they eventually die in massive or evolve into some mutant species.
And then what? Well, humanity is not destroyed, just horribly reduced. And small groups of humans are still in charge. But, would it be fair to call them humans after what they just did? Would it be accurate to call the people whom they have just massacred humans either? Here are two scenarios that are quite different, but not necessarily mutually exclusive: Aasimov’s Nanny State and The Homo-theseans.
a) Aasimov’s Three Laws of Robotics are as follows:- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
– A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
– A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Now, one might ask whether the robots would have already broken the first law by killing off all of those lower-class humans. Well, either those humans were redefined as subhumans or this is a completely different scenario from anything that I have said before. Also, there is a “zeroth” law that is pretty much like the first law, except it implies that a robot can harm a human if that human threatens humanity in general.So, in any case, humans are not to be harmed. And what can harm a human? Well…pretty much anything. So, the robot must protect humans from pretty much anything, including things that the humans actually want. No cheesecake, no beer. No strenuous walking. No exposure to irritating temperatures. No over-stimulation. What a human may want is part of the second law, which can be overruled by the first. Robots, thus, have no obligation to help foster new generations of humans; they simply have to preserve the humans that are currently alive. And if that means imprisoning all humans in individual stasis pods indefinitely so they can remain the healthiest of vegetables, then so be it. But, what if some body parts cannot be maintained forever? Enter the Homo-theseans.
b) The Ship of Theseus was a ship that had to be preserved over a long time. This was done primarily by replacing any rotting part with a new piece. Eventually, all of the original parts of the ship were replaced. Is it still the same ship? Well, instead of answering that question, I will apply it to cyborgs. Forget botox and plastic surgery; prosthetic bodies are what is in. At what point that a human with electronic modifications become a cyborg? At what point is a cyborg just a plain old robot? Is it when that last piece of organic tissue is replaced by a piece of machinery? The heart, the brain, and every other tangible piece of one’s body has become robotic. It is not so much that the robots have taken over humanity or even destroyed humanity; it is just that the distinction no longer has any relevancy. While some humans become robots quickly, humanity in general slowly, piece by piece, disappears into the machine. Humanity as it is and was becomes vague nostalgia, to be controlled and pulled out only on certain occasions, devoid of authentic context.
There is a spiritual debate that could be brought up here regarding the soul or the concept of love, but I won’t touch that either. Instead I will leave you with one of the first Youtube videos that came up when I entered the word Vocaloid
into its search engine. If you are not sure what “vocaloid” is, imagine auto-tune without that pesky human element. Enjoy…or just be glad that I did not pick the first video that came up…which was almost four hours long.