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Should We Be Afraid of Artificial Intelligence?

“One day, the AIs are going to look back on us the way we look at fossils and skeletons in the plains of Africa”

-Nathan, Ex Machina

Over the past few decades, popular culture has done its best  to tarnish the image of artificial intelligence in the public eye. Films like Terminator, Ex Machina, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and others depict a darker side of robots and artificial intelligence that casts a negative shadow on them. It would make sense that the race to produce true AI might slow with all of this media teetering between horror and sci-fi on the subject of AI circling the globe. But yet, the acceleration of the field has only increased.

A great deal of people find AI somewhat unsettling, and rightfully so. The idea that something can get so close to being a human, but only consist of wires, metal and code, is a disturbing thought. Super computers have the ability to recall and analyze more data and gather information faster than any one human could. Robots, depending on the purpose they serve, can be hundreds of times as strong as a human. Combine the two in one creation, along with the ability to learn and think for itself, and just the thought of what it might be capable of is terrifying.

Despite all of this, though, the field of AI continues to grow, with new advances being made all the time. However, we are still in the early stages of developing artificial intelligence, and the invention of anything seen in a movie like Ex Machina is still likely decades away. Adam Coates, director of the Baidu Research Silicon Valley AI Lab, believes this to be so: “I think that sometimes we get carried away and think about ‘sentient machines’ that are going to understand everything the way we do and totally interact with us. These things are pretty far away… A lot of the scare mongering of AI taking over the world or getting out of our control are a little bit overwrought.” Much of the fear surrounding AI comes from overestimating the advancement and power of this technology and conjuring up mainly overhyped ideas of the eventual implications it will have on the human race.

The mainstream media and popular culture have painted artificial intelligence as a force that will eventually harm humans, or even be the ultimate demise of humanity as a whole. It has an almost apocalyptic stigma attached to it that leaves the public to wonder not what the potential benefits and positive implications AI can have are, but whether the finished product will be deadly or not. Experts who research, work with, and use it on a day to day basis agree that the overwhelming majority of fears and apprehensions people have about AI and where it is headed are largely unfounded. So should we be afraid of AI? CGI movies say yes, but scientists say no.

Emotional Robots: Useless and Dangerous

      Robots are real. This idea has severe, negative connotations for much of society. When many people think of robots they likely think of a Terminator-like being; a singularity with desires to raize humanity. Currently, that is not the status of artificial intelligence (AI). Instead, AI is used to aid humans by means such as informing us where restaurants are or driving us to certain locations. Artificial intelligence and robots play a key role in our society, and will likely become even more important as computer scientists make new discoveries. However, although the advancement of AI can prove useful, there is a limit that needs to be drawn: artificial emotion and highly advanced thought. It would be unwise for scientists to mimic the infamous Victor Frankenstein by creating beings capable of human emotion and thought. While robots that can perform tasks for humans are incredibly useful in society, creating robots capable of more complex thought and feelings of emotions is unnecessary and could result in controversy over robotic rights, and could potentially lead to human demise if the laws of robotics were overcome.

      Current robots are already incredibly useful, and advancing their cognitive abilities to have emotion and improved intelligence would reap no greater benefit. Robots are used in various industries. From working in automobile companies to building electronics, robots play a key role in our society (roboto). Why we would need more advanced robots, capable of achieving greater tasks is a mystery to me. Some people would argue that robots in their current state will never be as adept at unique problem solving as humans, and because of this, it could be useful to have more advanced robots. However, there is evidence that contradicts this claim. In the MIT Technology Review, they discussed an experiment where judges talked to a chatbot and a real human and had to determine which was which. In many cases the judges thought the chatbot was the real human and vice versa, proving the complex mental capacity and quick thinking of AI (MIT). Robots are already far more advanced than many people realize; they can do many things humans cannot and can appear more human than humans (MIT).  Robot emotion is becoming a very real possibility, and the outcomes of it could be devastating.

      If robots were to feel emotions, society would need to consider their rights as living beings, which could be detrimental to humanity. It is unjust and cruel to deny a living, caring thing certain treatments and activities. Therefore, robots with emotions and specific desires would be a severe weight on our society. Robots are designed to aid humans, and purely that.  If AI had emotions, they would have certain needs beyond what is needed for their basic function. If robots were to suddenly need food or fuel, or leisure time, or certain amenities, there would be a noticeable cost to society.  Furthermore, if the individual desires of AI conflicted with that of humans,  the consequences could be severe.

      Robots, enhanced with personal desires and emotion, could seek to destroy humanity if they felt that humanity’s existence was negatively affecting the earth. Robots are highly logical; they are created and given intelligence through clear, thought out code, that commands for highly specific actions. Therefore, to them, it may be rational to eradicate human life, as it is the logical action to do to improve the wellbeing of the earth. From bombing massive swaths of land to pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to causing the sixth mass extinction, human impact on the earth is clearly not positive (NASA). Robots could assess the pros and cons of human existence, and based on humanity’s current actions, it is likely that AI would find us to be a plague on earth that they would try to annihilate. 

      I will say it again: Robots are incredibly useful. Society would not be anywhere near where it is now without them. However, I think we should try to be content with the level of aid they give us now, and not strive to advance them further. Highly advanced robots that could be capable of emotion would be an extreme danger to society, which is why I caution scientists to consider where they are headed, and not make a mistake as costly as that of Victor Frankenstein; we do not want to create a being or beings that have desires that conflict with our own, as these conflictions could lead to a negative outcome. While many scientific inventions have furthered the human race, improved robotic thought and emotion would not be one of those inventions; it would be the atom bomb of the future. 





MIT Technology Review. “The AI Issue”





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