Is Skynet Inevitable? Excerpt:
In the latest Spike Jonze movie, Her, an operating system called Samantha evolves into an enchanting, self-directed intelligence with a will of her own. Samantha makes choices that do not harm humanity, though they do leave viewers feeling a bit sadder.
In his terrific new book, Our Final Invention, documentarian James Barrat argues that visions of an essentially benign artificial general intelligence (AGI) like Samantha amount to silly pipe dreams. Barrat believes artificial intelligence is coming, but he thinks it will be more like Skynet.
In the Terminator movies, Skynet is an automated defense system that becomes self-aware, decides that human beings are a danger to it, and seeks to destroy us with nuclear weapons and terminator robots. Barrat doesn’t just think that Skynet is likely. He thinks it’s practically inevitable.
Is it really inevitable?
At present we are in the midst of mankind’s third great cultural revolution. The Agricultural Revolution made it possible for people to produce more than they consumed; it made possible trade, a division of labor, the birth of villages, towns, cities.
Later, the Industrial Revolution gave us mass production, factories, consumer goods; it gave us railroads, automobiles, aircraft, travel, and leisure time. It gave us the first modern standard of living.
Now, we find ourselves in the Information Revolution, and it will be as world-changing as the first two – it already has been, even now, in its infancy. Who is to know what the next hundred years will bring?
Barrat concludes with no grand proposals for regulating or banning the development of artificial intelligence. Rather he offers his book as “a heartfelt invitation to join the most important conversation humanity can have.” His thoughtful case about the dangers of ASI gives even the most cheerful technological optimist much to think about.
Much to think about – but predictions are notoriously hard to make, especially when they’re about the future. AI may prove difficult to produce, and fickle when it’s realized – or it may be as predictable and reliable as the rising sun, and as gentle as the morning rain. We can’t know, and won’t – until it happens.