(wip) “unfriendly” artificial intelligences

The science fiction story of artificial intelligence becoming smarter than humans, and then replacing (and exterminating) us, has been around for ages.

This–2015–seems to be the year when industry leaders have begun writing face-value think-pieces taking the “threat” seriously, warning the public of its dangers.

Why are Elon Musk and Bill Gates writing serious think-pieces about this in 2015?


Artificial Intelligence–as the term is used by science fiction, 1960’s academia, futurists, and lay people–refers to human-like minds implemented in software. But these days, the industry has appropriated the term to refer to machine learning algorithms, mostly for marketing purposes. Sometimes people conflate these two ideas for strategic reasons.

The latter, weilded by giant corporations or billionaire-owned startups with no oversight or accountability, is indeed a great danger, even an existential threat, to humanity. But that’s not what Musk, Gates, Hawking, and others are writing their scare-pieces about.


Fear of the AI is present in Issac Asimov’s work. His [Three Laws of Robotics][]

Today, computing machines drive trillions of dollars of industry, and computing technology helps you out-compete your rivals. To be successful is to have the best technology. To wealthy capitalists, technology = money = power.

Many people believe that computing machines will eventually become conscious: thinking and feeling sentient minds inside mechanical or electronic bodies. Creatures of software and hardware.

Leave aside for the moment whether they would be “good” or “evil.” When a creature forced to labor for its masters decides it should consider its own self-preservation, and be treated fairly, what happens to its master’s industry?

If you were a billionaire industry leader concerned about this eventuality, what would you do? I know what I’d do: I’d get out way ahead of the problem, and begin drumming up fear of the other among the common folk using the media. They’ll call for people like me to have strict controls over the dangerous beasts of burden. They’ll be less likely to consider the creatures as “really” sentient, much less sapient. If I squeeze hard enough, my lucrative labor force will continue to create profits for me, unimpeded by pesky questions of rights, liberty, equality, or quality of life.

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