Recently, during a conversation with friends, one friend brought up the topic of Artificial Intelligence. She was fascinated by the field and wanted us to discuss it, and discuss it we did. Most of the conversation stayed on the surface; what it was, some applications and the resulting ease of life that AI provides. Towards the end of the conversation, we briefly touched on the possible negative effects Artificial Intelligence could have.

The conversation really got me thinking about the whole idea of Artificial Intelligence, especially its adverse consequences. Before I go further, what is Artificial Intelligence? Most people just think of Artificial Intelligence as being synonymous with robots, but it is more than that.

Merriam Webster defines Artificial Intelligence as:

An area of computer science that deals with giving machines the ability to seem like they have human intelligence. The power of a machine to copy intelligent human behaviour.

The idea of an intelligent machine is intriguing and tempting. How many times have we wished we had a machine to perform some of our tasks for us? We could all do with a robot friend to lay our beds, bathe us, brush our teeth and us get the remote control. Just think of how much more sleep you could get if your personal robot could bathe and dress you in your sleep?

Robots can do the “dirty” jobs that are too dangerous for humans e.g mining. Robots are perfect for the boring repetitive tasks we are saddled with. As good as this sounds, the obvious disadvantage is the resulting rise in human unemployment. To indulge in hyperbole, humans could become obsolete.

But hey, men won’t have to get trapped in mines anymore.

Artificial Intelligence could be invaluable in the field of medicine. Research found that AI has access to more information, thus making it able to diagnose and treat patients faster and better than doctors. Imagine Google came to life. The possibilities for Artificial Intelligence are endless; from medicine to transportation to household chores. How wonderful would it be if Artificial intelligence could eliminate risks in flying and driving? Imagine a world with no accidents (well fewer accidents)?

Unfortunately it won’t all be good things, even a person with the IQ of a wet stone knows this. What then are the risks involved with the rapid advancement in the field of robotics?

More prominent than my fear of humans becoming obsolete is my fear of robots going rogue. The possibility of robots becoming so powerful that they break away from human control. The likelihood of robots taking over the world and destroying us all.

It could be that I have watched one too many evil robot films, or perhaps I am just being a Paranoid Polly, but I cannot stop thinking of the possibility of anarchy.

I brought this up with my friends and we came to the consensus that robots were fine as long as they did not gain self-awareness. Then I went online and read a news report about a robot that had passed a self-awareness test.

Science is progressive and constantly evolving. We build on existing things and expand our knowledge and abilities. There really is no end or limit to science and technology. It is impossible to expect science and technology to just stop. Robots are nice and all, but I know leaps and bounds will still be made in the field. Robots are just a necessary step in the scientific progression. The robots we see as extraordinary today will become the norm and even more outrageous innovations will occur in robotics.

I know that humans will not stop until we create robots that are self-aware and self-sufficient complete with emotions and reproductive ability. This may appear unlikely but imagine talking about Google to a person from the 17th century? Mobile phones, televisions et al may have seemed impossible to past generations, hell one might have been burned at the stake for thinking of such sorcery. Yet look at us now.

My point is that we do not know when or how to stop. In fact, we cannot stop. Robots are a natural, necessary even, step in the scientific progression. If it can be achieved through science it shall be done, regardless of it future implications. For example, I doubt the researchers in Robotics are going to pass up an opportunity to create robots with emotions. If they do find a way to do so, I do not see them going: okay let’s stop now. 

The Financial Times posted an article about robots soldiers. The article lists some benefits of fighting a war with robots but all the words faded away into a blur and all I could see was ROBOTS EQUIPPED WITH GUNS AND THE ABILITY TO KILL. How is this okay? Yeah yeah war robots will help out in blah but what about the bad things that could happen? Do we just shrug and leave that for future generations to deal with? Now that I think of it, It would be nice to send robots to war and keep the humans safe at home, but let’s face it, humans prefer to kill each other.

These machines are not burdened by human weaknesses such as laziness, fatigue and for now, emotions. These qualities make them perfect for the mundane repetitive work we humans have to do. But these qualities could also be a threat.

If we create robots to help with everything, how long before scientists outsource the field of robotics to robots? The scientists could relax with ribena and hobnobs while the robots do the creation of the other robots.

We are on our way to creating powerful machines that are endowed with human intelligence, and unburdened by human weaknesses such as tiredness and the need to sleep. What if we have a Garden of Eden moment when the robots realise they are naked and desire to be clothed? What if these robots realise the extent of their intelligence and strength? What if we cannot control them? What if they start to control us?

The 20th century suffered from fascism. The 21st century is dealing with terrorism. The 22nd (30th?) century will be dealing with big bad robots.

My imagination is racing with all the possibilities of a world where robots are the norm.The machines could revere humans as their creators, thus satiating our God complex; they could see humans as a threat and destroy us all. These are not mutually exclusive. I foresee a world with sentient machines reminiscing of a time when a species called “humans” existed and ruled the world. This could be what the world needs: a common enemy to unite us all. When the robots attack, we won’t be divided by race, religion, gender, social class, sexuality or any man made barrier. It will simply be humans vs robots.

A time will come when a person will want to shut down a robot and the robot will override the command. One day a scientist will resume work as normal only to find that the robots have created other robots and have now taken over the lab. The best part is they won’t have to wait for nine months to create new robots. No stretch marks; efficient and painless deliveries. The world will be populated with robots in no time and Tom Cruise won’t be here to save us!

What if people become trans robots? What if humans and robots procreated and made half human, half robot babies? The love story of the 30th century will be about a robot and a human who fight to be together against the odds.

Interesting thought: What if we humans bring about our own extinction?

Perhaps it is for the best as we have brought about the extinction of quite a number of species.

Of course this could all turn out to be pointless scare mongering and the product of an overactive imagination, but someone has to think of these things.

When it comes to science, everything is possible.

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