22 July 2017     home | knowledge

Will we be wiped out by machine overlords?

PBS NewsHour on 20 July 2017 ran a story about "prominent tech luminaries and scientists" and the threat of "artificial intelligence" to the human race. Nick Bostrom of the Future of Humanity Institute was interviewed by Paul Solman of the NewsHour, and Bostrom said:

The greatest existential risks arise from certain anticipated technological breakthroughs that we might make, in particular, machine superintelligence, nanotechnology, and synthetic biology, fundamentally because we don’t have the ability to uninvent anything that we invent.

One discipline is left out of Bostrom's big picture: the study of politics. May I suggest the need to consider the dynamics of power relationships. The NewsHour and Bostrom are talking about Artificial Intelligence shaking off or escaping from the control of those who created it. They are talking group conflict: high-tech engineer-philosophers versus their robots. An analogy might be the slave revolt led by Spartacus. The robots are the slaves. The suggestion is that the slaves will win and the slave owners will just surrender their power.

In real life the ultimate decider in power conflicts is violence. But back to their hypothetical, if the rebel group is too small, as happened recently in Turkey, the coup fails and the participants are punished.

Rebelling robots having the intentionality to conspire among themselves doesn't seem to be a part of the scenario imagined by those talking about the robots taking over. And, Bostrom concedes:

Right now, the human brain is where it’s at. It’s the source of almost all of the technologies we have.

No credible or detailed model exists describing how a transfer of power to robots might take place. We are big in imagination, but proud and brainy super-tech engineers surrendering ultimate control to the robots would be difficult to describe in hypothetical detail. Robots might already be able to stimulate limited maintenance procedures on themselves, but independent robot intentionality and political expression — and synthetic biological reproductive powers — appear to be no more than wild fantasy.

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