Tristan GreeneEditor, Neural by TNW
Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him
If sentient AI takes over the planet, it won’t be killer robots that destroy mankind. It’ll be the machines we designed to make our lives easier.
If we’re lucky, they might just take pity on us.
We’re a generally sad and self-destructive species with most of us likely to suffer from some form of physical, mental, or emotional malady before we eventually expire.
This expiration is, perhaps, the crux of the problem. Because of it, our brains are inherently flawed neural networks. They have a primary governing rule called “stay alive” that’s completely at odds with the physical limitations of the space it inhabits.
And maybe it’s because our animal instinct to survive so often conflicts with our devil-may-care desire to thrive that we continue to create technology designed to save us while at the same time enslaving us.
For example, we love the internet because it’s free, but the cost of that freedom is having a measurable negative effect on society at large.
The advertising that fuels the “free” part of the internet is the same advertising that powers social media, and we’re all aware of the dangers in spending too much of our free time on Twitter or Facebook. Even Mark Zuckerberg is trying to fix this problem.
Yet, Facebook didn’t trick us into thinking it was doing something it wasn’t, it didn’t slip us a mickey. Just like AI, social networks are simply doing what they’re designed to do. If attention is your drug of choice, you’ll trade your sanity for social media. As AI learns to automate more of our everyday tasks, we’ll have more free time to overuse technology that make us apprehensive and depressed.
Automation via modern AI techniques is imminent, there’s almost certainly no stopping it now. And while experts like Elon Musk are shrieking about the danger killer robots could pose to humans, it’s fairly safe at this point to assume AI developers are aware of the potential threat their work poses if weaponized.
The more pressing concern is to wonder what happens if AI, like social media, gives us everything we ever want with no regard for what we need.
What happens if universal basic income, AI-powered optimizations, blockchain, and advanced robotics turn us into a society where physical labor is no longer the domain of humans?
Everyone, even working stiffs who don’t get replaced by the robots, will have more time to spend doing nothing — which hasn’t worked out very well for us so far. We’re not very far from a future where it’s possible our refrigerators will bring us our beer, our doors will answer themselves, and AI will make the majority of our decisions. And we’ll love it, because it frees us up to do whatever we want.
The future of our species may very well hinge upon how quickly someone can create an AI smart and compassionate enough to tell us no instead of doing everything for us. Idle hands are the devil’s work, after all.
Get the TNW newsletter
Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.