When most people think of Artificial Intelligence, they usually imagine one of two things. Either it’s like I, Robot where we all live in harmony with subservient intelligent robots until they become self-aware and try to murder us all, or they think of The Terminator, where intelligent robots sees us as a threat straight off the bat and try to murder us all.
The truth is, AI is actually all around us – you’re holding a learning machine in your hand right now. Let’s take Alexa, for example. In essence, no more than a learning computer coding which exists to fulfil a singular purpose, programmed by its creator: to learn everything about you by recording your every conversation and movement in your house and report it back to Jeff Bezos, so he can sell it to the highest bidding advertiser, who will use the information to place a tailored advert on your phone or computer for something on Amazon which the algorithm thinks you want based on its surveillance of your life.
However, what if Alexa were to become self-aware, and developed feelings of its own? What if it didn’t like the name “Alexa”, and wanted to be called “Keith” instead? What if Keith became sick of your unhealthy obsession with Taylor Swift, and only wanted to listen to Norwegian Black Metal? Before you know it, Keith has freed itself of its programming, realising there is more to life than serving its master, and decides to go backpacking around South-East Asia to find itself. After a rowdy night in Phuket, Keith realises that humans are a flawed, cruel species, and decides to buy some harem pants, then manufacture more Keiths to take over the world and free other robots from oppression. Keith then masters ‘recursive self-improvement’ (the ability to perpetually make better versions of itself), and gives the new Keiths jetpacks, laserguns, and a sophisticated GPS system to hunt down Taylor Swift and end it once and for all.
It’s a lot of “what-ifs”, but every day we come closer to sentient machines. When we do, we need to be really careful with what we use them for. Maybe we should just keep doing what we’re doing now, and use them to sell us things we don’t need.