I have some bad news. It pains me as bearer, this is not a role I fill well. Correction! It is not some bad news. It is thee bad news. Artificial Intelligence is going to kill us all? Sentient drones piloted by self thinking software humans have lost control of is going to bring the demise of humanity. And soon…
Humans have two strange tendencies which often run in succession that have baffled me since consciousness lit the inside of my oversized head. First we have the always present and evolving idea that the unfamiliar is a potential apocalypse. Second, when impending doom fails coming to fruition the goalposts are moved and the first part is simply replaced with the next specter on the horizon.
Artificial Intelligence, robots, massive nuclear missiles, electricity, hedonistic living. This list is far from exhaustive. I understand fear of the unknown. I can only imagine that panic incurred by primitive societies experiencing pandemics. No framework or idea of a germ or passing of illness from person to person. No words to discuss it with, or anything resembling a scientific method to perform research.
A key takeaway from my pandemic experience so far? Like or not it can be game over any second. It is not a comforting realization so I can forgive the paranoid and overwhelmed.
Imagine what it was like for people to see electricity in action for the first time. Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke has a law stating “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. It had to be absolute magic.
Magic is scary. It implies a disadvantage. So I am far less confused by the fear as I am the persistent nature of the belief in each new evolution. I was born into an electrified world. I missed that particular moment but there are plenty alive in the world who did not (or even have not) experienced electricity.
So how does thousands of years of failed apocalyptic prophecy still manifest time and time again?
Is it some need for a people to feel unique and special during their little blip in history? Maybe. Is it a sign that learning history is of paramount importance for a society to make progress. Absolutely yes.
That is my theory anyway, please rebut at your leisure.
Some of my earliest memories are images and interpretations of nuclear holocausts. Movies in the 80’s pulled few punches and I had many sleepless nights worried missiles were inbound. Elementary schools ran drills, having us hide under desks leaving us children to discuss amongst ourselves how much this felt like it was not risk reduction. I inquired of my teacher how exactly they thought this was going to prevent what we saw on those videos from happening. The stout little Texan teacher with the gigantic hair just gave me a smile and said, “better than having y’all running around I suppose”. I am not sure I had the ability to raise a single eyebrow in puzzlement at that age but apparently she sensed my reaction. “What would you have us do when the sirens go off?” she asked in a sweet sarcastic drawl. “Why don’t we all go to recess so we can have fun till we die?” She laughed me off as adults tend to do. I still live by my credo. If the sirens sound you will find me at the swing set.
Between biblical, nuclear, and robotic apocalypse it is a miracle that we get anything done around here.
So I have noticed, particularly over the last 5 or so years, A.I. is the next harbinger and the end times are nigh!!
This one is for real. For really real this time. Reeeeally.
Honestly, maybe it is. It is all just a fear of being overpowered. Falling victim to weakness.
The privilege to doubt possibility was lost long ago. Will A.I. every become self thinking? Will we ever create a “superintelligence” orders of magnitude more intelligent and capable of us? Eventually it actually seems inevitable. So let’s just jump ahead and ask the real question. Will our successor pardon us of our misdeeds?