American Consequences - June 2019

AI will CONQUER HUMANITY AND RULE THE EARTH. Will computers ever become as intelligent as humans? “Yes, but only briefly,” said Vernor Vinge, the science-fiction writer and computer scientist who in 1993 described that scenario as the “technological singularity” – the moment when all the old rules would no longer apply. (He borrowed the term from astrophysicists, who call the edge of a black hole a singularity because the normal laws of physics no longer apply beyond that point.) Once computers became as smart as us, Vinge reasoned, those computers would build smarter computers, which would build even smarter computers, and before long there’d be AI with so much brainpower that we’d be dimwits by comparison. They’d regard us the way we regard goldfish. Vinge predicted that this singularity would occur by 2030. With all due respect to Amazon’s Alexa, today that possibility doesn’t look much more likely than it did in 1993, and many cognitive and AI scientists doubt that it will ever occur. While computers will do more and more tasks better than humans, whether they’ll ever become truly intelligent – and achieve consciousness – is still very much in doubt. But let’s assume that it happens someday. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that they became so smart and powerful that they could conquer us... Why would they want to? From Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space

Odyssey , to HBO’s Westworld , science-fiction writers have envisioned AI determined to wreak havoc on their creators. It’s a useful literary device, and an evil omnipotent computer makes a convenient villain. (A docile electronic servant with limited powers wouldn’t do – Alexa is not thriller material.) The prospect of an AI lusting for world domination seems plausible to audiences because we imagine that any intelligent creature would share humanity’s aggressive tendencies. But computers don’t have testosterone running through their circuitry.

While computers will do more and more tasks better than humans, whether they’ll ever become truly intelligent is still very much in doubt.

Human males evolved with the hormonally driven urge for dominance because it helped them reproduce their genes. Conquerors like Attila the Hun fathered more children and were able to provide them with more resources to survive. But computers aren’t looking to enlarge their harems. They’re not trying to win the favor of female computers, and they’re not going to gain anything by

AI IS ITCOMINGTOGETYOU?

American Consequences

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