In James Cameron’s The Terminator, a cyborg travels from 2029 to 1984 to kill a woman whose son will one day lead humanity in a post-apocalyptic war against AI controlled machines. A new scientific study has concluded that not only is such a scenario possible, machines deciding to take over the world that is, the fact is we wouldn’t be able to stop it. How cheerful!
Machine learning and its impact on humans has been a concern for scientists for decades. Professor Stephen Hawking once said that a major technological disaster will threaten humans in the next 1,000 – 10,000 years. If Professor Hawking was still alive, he might revise his forecast. AI research has advanced rapidly in recent years. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk declared AI to be our biggest existential threat and likened it to “summoning the demon.” I interviewed NASA’s Dr. Richie Terrile on The Richie Allen Show a few years ago. Terrile said that while he believed that machines would become self aware and move beyond our control, they wouldn’t necessarily wipe us out. When I asked him why, he said that they’d probably leave Earth and go exploring the universe. Fingers crossed eh?
This latest study, by an international team of researchers, including scientists from the Center for Humans and Machines at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, concludes that “no single algorithm can find a solution for determining whether an AI would produce harm to the world.” And worryingly it states that, “we may not even know when super-intelligent machines have arrived, because deciding whether a machine exhibits intelligence superior to humans is in the same realm as the containment problem.”
I watched Cameron’s Terminator recently and I was struck by something. In the parts of the film that take place in 2029, armed drones patrol the skies, looking for people to vaporise. Last May, my future father in-law, phoned from his home in Nancy, in the North East of France. He was startled as were his neighbours, to encounter drones which bore a striking resemblance to Cameron’s machines, flying around the village. The drones had been programmed to tell people to go home, to vacate the streets and to obey the curfew! The drones weren’t armed, but they had been adapted to carry weapons if the need ever arose. When I looked into it, I discovered that in some instances (but not all), the drones were being instructed not by a police officer, but by an AI computer. Science fiction eh?