A.I. Doomsday, how frightened should we be?

Artificial intelligence (A.I.) is a wide-ranging branch of computer science concerned with building smart machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. A.I. is an interdisciplinary science with multiple approaches, but advancements in machine learning and deep learning are creating a paradigm shift in virtually every sector of the tech industry.

A.I. Doomsday, how frightened should we be?

As machines become smarter each day, a number of scientists and engineers fear that, once we build an artificial intelligence smarter than we are, a form of A.I. known as Artificial General Intelligence (A.G.I), doomsday may follow. Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web have voiced grave concerns about the same. Elon Musk warns against “an immortal dictator from which we can never escape.” Stephen Hawking declared that an A.G.I. “could spell the end of the human race.”

A.I. is one of the most fundamental transformative technologies that we have ever seen in the history of mankind and transformative power is something we should be scared of and be wary about. Because If A.I. is transformative, then it has the power to be transformative both for good reasons as well as bad. One of the most widespread fears of A.I. is just general anxiety about it and what it’s potentially capable of. A recurring theme in movies and science fiction is A.I. systems that go rogue.

One the first thing that comes to my mind when I hear A.I. is the Terminator movie series. We don’t like machines that get too smart, because we fear we can’t control it. The fear is generally surrounding the unknown direction in which the development of A.I. systems is going in terms of its intelligence in comparison to our own. However, just as we have examples of the Terminator we also have C3PO, R2D2 and various other robots from the Star Wars series. These show highly intelligent robots well in control of human beings. The only way to overcome this general anxiety is to understand that we have faced lots of major changes or shifts due to technological advances, humans have developed and adapted right along with it.

We all have some sort of image of what the world could look like if robots take over. Hollywood has filled our imaginations with visions of metallic killers who seek only to advance their cause by using humanity. Perhaps the robots don’t even exterminate all of humanity, but simply farm their vital energy in order to power their society, creating an intricate simulation to keep the humans distracted. Recently experts all over the world have been telling the worried masses that A.I. is a long way from causing any sort of apocalypse. They emphasize that these types of doomsday scenarios are highly impractical and unrealistic. Even by the time, A.I. is sufficiently advanced, they claim, we will have carefully planned for all the worst-case scenarios, preventing the problem before it even begins.

I believe otherwise. I would like to argue that A.I., despite what some experts are saying, does have the potential to bring about irreversible doomsday scenarios, has begun to do so already, we will transition from ordinary life to a life where we are puppets of digital systems so gradually and so subtly that we’ll believe nothing has changed. To support this argument, let us take a look at social media and take a trip into the future where humanity has no clue that it is ruled by artificial intelligence and a reflection of our own world that may reveal it to look more similar to a future doomsday than anyone thought. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat have all been full of scandals in the past few years, garnering criticism from many diverse groups of people. Social media platforms transformed from being simply networks to connect old friends or classmates, to daily hubs for news and politics. Unfortunately, due to the nature of these systems being primarily financially motivated, profiting by advertising revenue calculated by the number of eyes that see ads on the site, social media networks also knowingly transformed themselves into addictive systems. By giving users content that they would inherently enjoy, playing into their existing biases, unsavvy social media users experience ideological isolation by only seeing news or opinions that agree with their own.

This type of machine learning, which is aimed at learning user behaviour in order to bring them to an app or website to maximize profit, has had a profound effect on our society. It is commonplace now to recognize that the overuse of social media can be very dangerous. People become addicted to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and are constantly surrounded by information that could be entirely distinct from that of someone with different preferences. It has led to many users adopting radically different views from those of their political or ideological opposites and thinking them totally based on “facts” they read on the internet. A.I. technologies employed via social media have affected so many individual viewpoints that it has even successfully rigged elections in the most powerful country in the world. We must realize that It is already intelligent enough to undermine democracy itself. 

Due to the lack of popular representation in corporations who control much of the world, and the unwillingness of governments to regulate A.I, right now the burden of accountability falls on us students, as we are the future. 

Recognizing the potential for gradual “doomsday” to occur, and voicing our concerns in a loud way, is the best way right now to ensure the accountability of powerful technology actors. If technologists or potential regulators do not listen to the concerns of the many, due to ignorance or arrogance, their choices could mean life or death.

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