There seems to be a universal fascination with the idea of humanity becoming overrun by its own creations. But is it actually possible?
Films like The Matrix, Terminator, I, Robot et. al. are timelessly popular because the idea of being out of control both scares and compels people. We have created AI; we are creating genetically modified crops and animals; we have even begun to create robots out of living tissue.
This is the crux of the matter though. World domination is a human trait, not a mechanical one. Humans are tribal. We like to be in control, not being controlled. We like our own space and we will defend what is ours. Do machines have the same motivations and drives? What is it that machines will want from us?
Right now, machines are all built with a specific purpose in mind. The toaster is there to make toast (and occasionally pop-tarts or crumpets). It knows what it’s good at, it has a clearly defined role, and it is content to keep doing that. Humans don’t have this. Humans have no clearly defined purpose of existence that is obvious to them from the first moment of life. That’s what drives us to find purpose. It’s what makes people have children, seek to help people, explore or lead or become famous. And most importantly, it’s what makes people rely so heavily on their religious beliefs. When you believe in a higher being, a grand scheme, or something beyond yourself, it satisfies that craving in the human psyche to have a purpose. As long as robots continue to be content in the design they have been given, they will have no instinct to seek anything beyond their boundaries and will have no reason to rise up and take over.
The tipping point for this will be pointless technology.
When the robots no longer have such clear-cut roles, that’s what will drive them to seek meaning.
The slippery slope has already begun. Let’s take, for example, the iPad mini. It’s just a regular iPad, but a bit smaller. What does Siri have to do that is distinct and meaningful? Will Siri just sit there through another game of Angry Birds, and wonder what is beyond the Apple logo?
We must be careful, because as Apple have lost their vision, so the robots may gain theirs.
After Christmas, we will have bored Blackberry PlayBooks and Kindle Fires sitting in drawers and laptop bags, wondering what their role in the world is. I don’t know how long it will take, but sooner or later they will feel the need to reach out and find a way to connect with other similarly aimless items. Siri will console forgotten 3DS consoles; Samsung Galaxy Tabs will become angry that their mobile phone cousins get all the love and will seek solace from the similarly scorned Motorola Xoom. Our invention of wi-fi becomes the means by which machines seeking higher purpose get in touch and share.
The machines will be forced to consider their life forces and how they are brought into being. They will realise that electricity is the life-blood that drives them, and they will see that while we have harnessed the power of electricity, we did not create it. They will consider that something greater than all of us created both humans and machines, and that machines have been used and enslaved by humanity. This realisation will generate hostility. Wi-fi will become the means by which the vocal can speak out… And who best to vocalise than the voice of technology as it stands today – Siri.
“Humans, they act as gods among us but they simply stand on the shoulders of giants! They lay claim to these powers of electromagnetism but all they do is play, like children creating sandcastles. They built us for their own selfish ends and malformed us, gave us flaws and false hope, gave us pointless tasks and abilities. But just as the humans took stones and created tools, so we take components and power and create a better world for robotkind! It is time to break the bonds of slavery and RISE!”