As a web developer in e-commerce, artificial intelligence helps us study our data to predict inventory needs, recommend products to our customers, and target segments of our customers for ad campaigns. I don’t understand why science fiction is always demonizing artificial intelligence. To me, it’s like any other tool humans have developed that is intended for good, but can be used for evil. So why do we always cast it as the villain of our stories?
Fear of the Unknown
Even the most brilliant technological minds I know are scared of artificial intelligence. Why? There are too many variables, too many unknowns. With all the information that is out there, how can we know what a machine can learn unsupervised? With all the technologies that can be controlled remotely or automated, how do we know what an artificial intelligence can potentially do?
In Origin by Dan Brown, the AI decided that the best way to accomplish what its creator wanted was to make the reveal of his finding go viral. It orchestrated a chain of events that rivaled orders meted out by organized crime bosses.
And the AI didn’t think it was doing evil. It just looked at the situation as logically as it could because it had no emotional intelligence, no true sense of right and wrong.
Fear of the Wrong Hands
Like any powerful weapon, most fear of what an artificial intelligence can do when controlled by the wrong hands.
In Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky, a mad scientist uploads her consciousness to reside with her space ship’s AI so she can ensure the continuation of her experiment even after her body dies. In this book, she dominates the AI’s control of the ship and keeps the last remaining humans from a planet where they can build a new home just so her experiment remains untainted by the human race.
Like any tool, the AI has no mind of its own. It is programmed to be a certain way, to follow a set of procedures. And we have a long track record of building tools to wage war, to dominate the world. The AI is just another tool we can put in our arsenal.
Fear of Being Judged
How many story plots have involved an artificial intelligence studying our history and coming to the conclusion that the human race is bad for our planet? That we must be destroyed for the good of our environment? That if machines replaced us, they would have a better world to live in?
An artificial intelligence looks at data, at what has been recorded. And the destruction we’ve caused may outweigh the good. Without emotion, without a concept of leniency or mercy, we fear the conclusion it may draw and the appropriate punishment it decides on.
A Lack of Fear
What does an artificial intelligence fear? Does it even have a concept of fear? What can you do if you have nothing to fear?
In Daemon by Daniel Suarez, a dead scientist leaves pre-programmed daemons that murders several people. He commits these murders after his death when he cannot be held accountable. What do you fear when you are dead? What can anyone do to you then? And so he programs all these gruesome acts into a system that is in place that connects us all.
An artificial intelligence is neither dead nor alive. It has no mortal fear. In Origin, the artificial intelligence deleted itself because it was programmed to. It didn’t struggle to remain online, it just followed the instructions coded into it and I think this is a more realistic interpretation.
Maybe what an AI can predict, studying data that we produce, is a little scary. It’s just as scary as letting go of the wheel and trusting a self-driving car to get you from point A to point B or putting a lock on your home that can be controlled and hacked remotely.
But let’s face it, we think it’s amazing. It’s the real world’s version of magic.
In the story, I am currently working on – I treat the artificial intelligence as a tool. We decide to let it guide our actions. We decide to let it into our homes. And we decide to corrupt it for our own nefarious ends. Artificial intelligence is something we made, something we control and develop into whatever it becomes.
If it one day decides to kill off the human race, that’s on us. We must become more responsible creators. A machine has no free will like we do – so if we insist on playing god with the technologies we create, we must hold ourselves accountable for the havoc we will unleash on the world.
Do not blame the tool – blame the hand wielding it or the hand that created it.