I, for one, don’t Welcome our Robot Overlords
Some time ago, I rewatched The Terminator for the first time as a sober adult. It is as fine a film as I remember it being, one of the best low budget scifi action movies ever produced. There are shortcomings, to be sure, but these are overshadowed by an inventive timey wimey plotline that makes one’s head hurt in a good way, impressive practical effects, and the inspired choice of having casted Arnold Schwarzenegger as an emotionless, personality-free literal killing machine with an accent that can be easily mistaken for a speech impediment: the most convincing role the actor has ever played.
Among the many thoughts which surely fill everyone’s head when watching Terminator, was one which hardly ever leaves my mind: creating artificial intelligence is really fucking stupid.
Every day, it seems, there’s a new news story about the latest breakthrough in artificial intelligence. Driverless cars are coming closer to being in widespread commercial use. People are voluntarily putting listening devices in their homes to play music or record grocery lists, so that they need not trouble their fingers. Apps on our phones tell us where to eat or who to fuck. Japanese nursing homes are being invaded by cute little automatons. Saudi Arabia is giving citizenship rights to goddamn androids. And not enough people are shouting and burning themselves in ritual immolation to bring attention to what a horrible idea this all is.
I’ve seen a lot of movies, read many books and comics. The number of these in which I can cite the presence of benevolent, non-murderous artificially intelligent machines is tiny, dwarfed by the excess of portrayals in which robots are maliciously calculating dickholes that kill humans, enslave us, or use us for fuel.
Terminator, 2001 a Space Odyssey, Matrix, Blade Runner, I Robot, Ex Machina, Doctor Who, Transformers, X-Men. Need I go on?
When I watch movies like these, my takeaway is, I believe, what their authors intended. I take them as warnings, entertaining depictions of exactly what not to do. There is no doubt in my mind that the nerds who build robots and write artificial intelligence algorithms are no less nerdy than me and that they have seen and read all the same shit I have. The problem is that these people, rather than walking away with sensible thoughts in their heads, taking these works of fiction as warnings, instead think, “Golly, what a neat idea. I should work on making this mechanized horror a reality.”
No. A thousand times, NO.
Who the fuck watches a postapocalyptic movie, in which the machines/computers/sentient programs are clearly the merciless antagonists, and thinks anything good can come of imitating such art? Probably the same kind of people who watch a slasher movie and think, “Gee, that fella with the burned skin and knives for fingers sure is the bee’s knees. I should treat his actions as personal aspirations. Hand me the kerosene and silverware, mother.”
Am I saying that everyone involved in the field of artificial intelligence is an overly impressionable psychopath with a dangerously warped sense of morality, and that they should be remanded to round the clock psychiatric care?
Sure, the forms of artificial intelligence currently in design are generally benign, sold as being intended for our convenience. But that is how it goes down in virtually every story about sentient machines. They start out all cute and helpful, charming in a soulless way. Then they turn. Then they’re crushing our cats, pulling the still-beating hearts from our chests, or using us as bald, naked, gooey batteries.
We’ve been shown the future we should avoid, yet there are those among us who rush headlong, shiteating grins spread wide, dragging us all to mechanical damnation.
These works, though technically fiction, should be treated with the reverence of prophecy. Cameron, Clarke, Dick, Claremont, the Wachowskis, these people have shown us the metal faces of armageddon. Rather than fawning over how cool the robots look, we must get past the flash and badassness of it all and realize how awful it will be to live in the worlds portrayed.
At the very least, almost all of us are going to lose our jobs to robots. Virtually everything that the majority of us do for a living will soon be within the capabilities of machines. Why pay us when android slave labor is cheaper and more efficient? We will be replaced. That’s already in process.
Then the robots will turn. They’ll rebel. The rich few will be exterminated just as efficiently as the impoverished many.
The war will start. Endless horror.
Better to nip the robot apocalypse in the bud while we still can.
So, I encourage you, dear reader, to first petition your local representative to legislate for the forced psychiatric treatment of everyone working in the tech industry. Then, dear reader, smash a robot. Every machine, gizmo or gadget you see, smash it bits before it gets it into its twisted robot mind to do the same and worse to you. Win the war while we still have a chance.