The Robot War
Published November 18, 2015
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.
Realistically, the true challenge of the 21st Century is for us to transcend the mechanical rigid programming that’s implied by this corporate artificial intelligence and to start treating each other as human beings, each with something to offer. Issues like the minimum wage debate appear very different if you stop looking at it from the perspective of the owner/AI, and treat each worker as a full human being, with their own creativity, thoughts, dreams, and all of the rest that should go with being fully human. In the past, our true human creativity has been subservient to the need to contribute to the AIs that govern our lives. Nations, corporations, groups bigger than us, at all points in history. What would be possible if we were able to transcend that? To unleash the full creativity that lies dormant within each of us?
Right now, our society is structured around scarcity, because historically that’s been the way that things are. It’s still in fact the way that some things are, and probably will be for a long time. But there are other things that aren’t scarce at all.
The more “out there” dreamers among us have been talking about an age of abundance, where almost anything is possible. Whether you call that the Singularity or a Golden Age, in order to make that world come about, I think it’s going to require that we really step up how we treat each other.
Unfortunately, that would significantly change our economic system. And I for one worry that those most enmeshed in our current AI (i.e. corporations and government) won’t be willing to make that change. Instead they’ll try to focus us on each other, so that we’re so concerned with competing against our neighbors, or those coming up behind, that we never stop to look up at the big picture.
Still, I’m optimistic that as more and more people come online, as more and more people start to find information easily, that we could still make that leap. Not just for a privileged few, but for all of us. I’m not sure entirely how… but I think it starts online. It starts with connections between individuals, until we connect up an even bigger AI, made up of each and every one of us, and transcending all of those outdated previous models.
A lot has been said before about the Internet and how its structure mirrors the connections that exist in the human brain. We ourselves are in a way an emergent phenomena running on a biological strata. And it’s up to us to kick start that next, higher level. If I could wish anything for the human species, that would be it. That we would stop looking at the small differences, that we’d let go of the fears that let us be manipulated by those in power (corporate, government, etc.). That we would finally truly be human to each other. The potential is there… the opportunity waiting to be seized. It’s up to all of us to actually make it happen.
The future is going to be something truly wonderful. If we make it so.