When you hear the phrase Robot War, or the Machine War, or even the AI War, it conjures visions of Terminators striding across skull-strewn plains. Blame Hollywood or our overactive imaginations there. But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what a war between humans and AI would actually be like. And this has led me to think that we are in the middle of this war right now.
What do I mean by that? Well, I started thinking about what is an AI. To my mind, an AI is a non-human entity that was created artificially. In the context of a Robot War, such an AI would be taking actions to augment its own survival at the cost of human survival. Which very quickly led me to the idea of corporations.
Corporations are now defined as legally possessing personhood. They didn’t start out that way. We as a society gave them those rights. And although corporations are “run” by humans, I think one could make a convincing argument that those humans are in fact just the biological “cogs” that make up a machine intelligence. If any single manager or boss decides not to “get with the program”, so to speak, that manager or boss will be replaced. Everyone knows that. Thus, there is a high degree of coercion in place to ensure that managers/bosses act first in the interest of the corporation itself, even when those actions would result in human suffering.
That may sound a bit far-fetched to some… but I think it’s a much more credible explanation for why so many things that we as human beings would be against keep happening. More and more over the last few decades, governments have begun acting in the interests of corporations, rather than their human citizens.
Since the 1970s they’ve been playing countries and states against each other, in a race to the bottom competing for the opportunity to host where a corporation is headquartered or houses its employees. In the US, with the recent Supreme Court decisions that have legitimized our political culture of monied interests and corruption, the only remaining check on corporations’ ability to act (legal requirements against certain behavior) is further undermined.
I don’t think it’s really that much of a stretch, once you get past the initial shock of the idea. If we only conceptualize machines as devices such as computers, then the idea of an emergent entity that uses biological individuals as components may seem very strange. But I think that this model gives a better picture of some of the high stakes issues that are confronting our society today.