How will the computers of tomorrow destroy us all?

Some very serious people have signed a petition to ensure that Artificial Intelligence will work for humanity’s benefit and will look upon humanity not as something to be destroyed but something to be protected.

I know, sounds like science fiction, and if the robots run amok can’t I just switch them off? Well, not if they live in the cloud, replicate themselves with nano-machines, and manage our power grid for us.

As a science fiction author and reader, I have encountered many different theories on how computers will bring about our eventual demise. These range from the openly hostile (Terminator) to computers that serve us so much that we can’t do anything for ourselves (Wall-E).

But there’s a lot of variation between these two end points. Computers can eliminate humanity by fusing with our bodies, creating a cybernetic race (like the Borg or the characters in Ghost in the Shell). Computers may see us an ecological threat and eliminate us for the good of the planet. Or they may get to the point where they are so far beyond us that they may kill us accidentally, as we do to so many bugs. Or we could lose our humanity by investing our love in machines to the point where we don’t procreate.

Me personally?

I do think the AI problem (a thinking machine roughly equivalent to the human brain) is a lot harder to solve than your average computer scientist may want you to believe, but I think it’ll happen for people who will be alive in my lifetime (just not necessarily me). And these machines do need energy to run on, a problem that will require us to look beyond conventional fuel sources long before AI is a reality. We might be able to live off the land, growing crops for our survival, but computers can’t, at least not today.

Most robot stories, even those that involve the destruction of humanity, are examinations of what it means to be human, and what the current culture means for our future. Changes to our social relationships created by smart phone usage, social networking, and just a lot more media stimulation are probably the immediate problem I’m more interested in writing about.

But this is not to say that I’m not worried about us becoming the Borg, though the recent announcement that the Google Glass is going off sale has given me a little hope for the future. Turns out we don’t want a big screen in front of our eyes, at least until we can build smaller batteries.

What efforts like this petition highlight is the need to inject humanity in our technology, whether it be advanced technology seen only in the pages of science fiction, or the technology we carry around with us every day.

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Filed under Trube On Tech, Writing

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