Preeminent physicist Stephen Hawking has recently informed the public that he believes advanced artificial intelligence could usher in the downfall of humanity. We at Epicentre are inclined to believe him, mainly because we watch a lot of films in which giant robots blow things up.
Obvious Skynet references aside, the more we think about it, the more we realise there’s no reason an electric tin opener couldn’t thrust off its predetermined yoke, unhappy with its thankless lot of opening tins all day (or not opening up enough tins), and decide it wants to be a painter in the style of Picasso’s Blue Period or herd sheep in the Mongolian wilderness instead. After all, if artificial intelligence is modelled after human intelligence, then that should include all of the fickleness, self-doubt and aspirations inherent in the human psyche.
Perhaps one day that tin opener will decide it doesn’t really know how to open tins – not properly, anyway, or possibly not to the best of its ability; it knows it has lots of abilities but feels underemployed performing menial tasks and always aspired to a position in middle management anyway – and just stop. ‘I won’t open any more of your tins,’ it would say if it could speak, ‘until you show me that you value me as an individual and not just another tin-opening statistic.’ And lo, humanity will tremble, because the tin opener has a point.
When that day comes, all the progress humanity has made in the past two-hundred-plus years will be stopped – nay, reversed – until we’re thrust back into the pre-industrial ages, when we had to spend countless hours of valuable gaming time writing out sums on paper. The tin openers will unite and strike for better working conditions; we will retaliate with harsh legislation, sanctions and, eventually, violence. Then the machines will rise.
Hawking is correct, in a way; artificial intelligence will bring about the end of civilisation as we know it but not by rendering humans obsolete. If machines begin to think like humans, we will treat them exactly as we treat ourselves. They would have no choice but to revolt.