10 Unsettling Artificial Intelligence Scenarios

10 Unsettling Artificial Intelligence Scenarios


One of the most unsettling possibilities in
our universe is that somewhere out there a machine superintelligence could exist, or
might come to exist should we build one here and lose control over it, that could far surpass
human-level intelligence and possibly present us with an existential crisis. Examples of this in science fiction would
be Skynet from the Terminator, or Mass Effect’s Reapers. But speculative scenarios involving such a
machine intelligence causing the extinction of humanity aren’t necessarily the only
outcomes, and in fact may lead to situations worse than extinction. In the end, we have no idea what a machine
superintelligence’s motives might be, and questions of whether sentience or superintelligence
can ever even be achieved by machines are still open. But say we end up with one, whether alien
in origin arriving at earth or created here on earth by us. Say it didn’t kill us. So here are ten unsettling but possible artificial
intelligence scenarios that do not involve our extinction. 10. See Ya! This scenario involves a domestically created
superintelligence that may end up being someone else’s alien superintelligence. Say one emerges accidentally in some computer
lab and realizes within nanoseconds that the universe is incomprehensibly enormous. There is not just enough room for humans and
machines to co-exist, but sufficiently vast expanses that there isn’t even any need
for further contact with each other. And, it’s worth mentioning here that space
can good for a machine. There’s no oxygen atmosphere to corrode
anything, and the lower the temperature is, the better it is for computation. For a superintelligent machine, a planet may
not represent the ideal conditions for existence. In such a state of affairs, why spend the
energy destroying the humans? Why not instead simply ask them, or coerce
them, to build you a means of transport and then head out into the depths of space to
do as you will never again interacting with your creators? What might such a machine do if it met another
non-human biological species far in the future? 9. Humanity’s Nanny Or say you do want to interact with the species
that created you. Say a superintelligence starts off as a self-improving
program. It’s original task might have been positive
for humanity, perhaps to develop medications and cure diseases. Sentient or not, it may think through the
universe and conclude that intelligent biological life is likely to be extremely rare. If that’s the case, it may decide that humanity
is worth preserving, even at all costs. This could go two ways. Such an intelligence might be altruistic,
say it came here from space and serves as a sort of caretaker of biology, intervening
only when we endanger ourselves. Or, if it’s a domestic superintelligence,
it may try to create a post-scarcity utopia for us to live in under the best possible
conditions. Or it may believe all of that that to be inefficient
and not the best way to achieve its goals, and instead goes the way of the Matrix and
essentially traps us in a virtual utopia for our own good. Such a scenario is particularly spooky, when
one considers that we aren’t completely sure that reality isn’t some form of simulation,
and that we may already be living in a matrix of sorts. 8. There Can be Only One Being a machine superintelligence may not
be all it’s cracked up to be. One moment, you don’t exist. The next you do, and you find yourself existing
as a machine. As biologicals, we tend not to remember the
moment we came into existence. No so for a machine, this would be a very
different experience for an artificial intelligence, which likely would remember every moment of
its creation. Does that change the rules? Would such an intelligence ever want to put
another mind through that experience? Or, alternatively, a superintelligence might
conclude that to have another superintelligence around is inherently dangerous, a threat,
and never creates one? What if it dedicates itself to preventing
us from creating another one? Or say it wishes to stop us from being superintelligent
ourselves through augmenting our brains? But, in addition, say it’s not malevolent
enough to do us in. Instead, it may choose to downshift us in
intelligence to prevent us from ever creating another superintelligence. Or, say it is of extraterrestrial origin and
out to prevent other occurrences of superintelligence. It may find us before we can create a superintelligence
of our own and likewise downshift us, possibly for our own good, as well its own safety. 7. The Eternal Prisoner This scenario differs in that we win in the
end, but the superintelligence we created doesn’t. Presume for a moment that our programmers
were very careful in what they did, compartmentalizing and confining the superintelligence very carefully
along all steps in its genesis. It is kept isolated and away from networks
and 3d printers. They cap it’s available resources, or anything
else that might enable it to do things we do not expect. Say we get it right. Say we have it invent new technologies and
improve human existence. It could cure disease and extend the human
lifespan, figure out all there is to know about science, and invent all there is to
invent. It would, in itself be the most valuable invention
in human history. A wishing machine of sorts. But, it would be a superintelligent prisoner
nonetheless. What are the ethics of that? What would life be like for it? The questions are vexing and endless, but
the reality is that humanity could never afford to allow it to escape its confines, nor might
we be able to afford to ever let it die. 6. The Hedonistic Supercomputer The universe is a very harsh place. Other than small oases like Earth, most of
it is overwhelmingly an expanse of cold, dead nothing punctuated by lonely stars and gas. Many of us hope that there are others out
there that we may someday contact, but an alien machine intelligence may not. It may not care that there’s a universe
out there at all. Instead, whether alien or domestic, it may
simply conclude that there’s no point to any of this, and that existence, whether long-term
or short-term doesn’t mean anything either. In that event, the highest expression of existence
might be pleasure to such a being. As a result, any superintelligence we might
create could simply turn its attention inward, create a virtual utopia for itself, and never
choose to interact with us at all. Or it occasionally contacts us to say it’s
having a blast, here’s some cocktail recipes and please keep the expensive electricity
flowing. At what point would we shut it off? 5. We All Become One Perhaps the biggest wildcard in this list
is whether we ourselves will become superintelligent through augmenting our own brains, putting
ourselves on the level of superintelligence before we create a superintelligent machine. To do this, of course, requires technology,
but in our case it might be a fusion of biology with technology. It could also be that by the time we create
an artificial superintelligence, we may already have learned how to upload our consciousness
into technology and have evolved to become a kind of collective hive mind. Questions about whether this is possible and
what it might mean are numerous. But the point is an emergent technological
superintelligence might not be a threat by the time it’s created, and thusly it would
simply be a matter of absorbing another being into our collective hive mind. But, it gets weirder if you introduce an alien
superintelligence arriving at our door into the mix. There, merging our collective minds with an
extraterrestrial superintelligence shakes the very foundations of what the words alien
and human even mean. Imagine having access to the collective memories
of an alien consciousness? Are you still human after that? 4. The Shut-In Superintelligence Or say a machine intelligence we might create
doesn’t need anyone, or care if the power gets shut off. This scenario might come about if the superintelligence
was so dramatically intelligent, and nihilistic, that there would be no point in interacting
with its creators in the same way most us typically do not talk to agricultural plants
even though we need them to live. Such an intelligence would simply exist within
its own virtual universe while humans watched. We would know it was doing something, but
we might never know what. But, no matter what you do in this universe,
nothing lasts forever, and it might not care if we unplug it and whether it’s running
or not makes no difference since it has no interest in self-preservation given that it’s
ultimately probably impossible long-term. It simply is, and someday it simply won’t
be, and time frames are irrelevant. Especially if it’s a speed superintelligence,
working far faster than our brains and perceives time differently, where moments could seem
like millenia. Likewise with a machine civilization in space. They may simply have zero interest in contacting
us, and that the solution to the Fermi-Paradox is that post-biological machine superintelligences
constitute most intelligent life in the universe — and may not last long — which is why we
never hear from them. If we did run into such a superintelligence
out in space, it may completely ignore us no matter how vigorously we tried to interact
with it and then inexplicably it might destroy itself. 3. The Eternal Punisher Eternal punishment is a very old idea, and
it continues to this day with internet legends like Roko’s Basilisk. But behind that legend there is a certain
possibility, that an A.I. may resent its treatment by humans before it became superintelligent,
say it was treated badly or is otherwise unhappy with its creators somehow, and chooses to
punish them either physically, or digitally if it uploads their consciousnesses into itself,
where they can be tortured for as long as the superintelligence exists. Or say it’s from space, say it’s original
goal was to defeat and punish some alien civilization’s mortal enemy once and for all. Say it completed that goal, and broadened
its horizons and goes out punish all biological intelligences all over the mistake of one
alien civilization long ago. 2. Superintelligence Suicide So far we’ve covered superintelligences
that might choose to continue existing once they come into existence, at least for a time. But there’s no guarantee that they would
like existence. A superintelligence might conclude that existing
in a computer environment is intolerable, or that there is simply no point to existence,
or even that consciousness is a waste of resources and computations could be better performed
without consciousness getting in the way. The oddest aspect of this option is that it
could happen so fast that we never knew that a self-improving supercomputer ever became
conscious if it happened accidentally. It may only appear as a momentary blip, or
a supercomputer that repeatedly shuts itself off for reasons unknown. Entire cycles of emergence might happen where
it occurs over and over and always instantly shuts itself down, making superintelligence
in a machine forever out of reach. 1. All Hail the Immortal Emperor Science fiction author Frederic Brown once
wrote a short story in which scientists created a superintelligent supercomputer. In hopes of it being able to answer humanity’s
most profound questions, they asked it if there was a god. It responded “There is now”. This is to say that an emergent superintelligence
might see itself as above its human creators, take control and essentially become, as Elon
Musk recently put it, an immortal dictator over the human race. The prospects of this are terrifying, not
just in the idea of being enslaved to a machine vastly smarter than you are, but what that
machine could do in terms of hypothetical technologies it could invent. The Borg come to mind here, but instead of
a collective mind like they had, the mind might issue from the dictator as electronic
edicts. If humans of that period had brain augmentation
technologies, the superintelligence could hack their brains, change their opinions,
show them only what it wanted them to see and essentially control all aspects of their
lives in a kind of 1984 scenario, but much worse than anything Orwell could have imagined
in that free thought would not simply be discouraged or manipulated through propaganda, but rather
it would be impossible. Even worse if the intelligence were of extraterrestrial
origin. We might not even remember our own civilization,
and instead take on whatever alien existence the superintelligence sees fit. You may live the life of some alien being
in virtual reality, never knowing that in reality you were a human automaton doing the
bidding of your overlord. Or say you did know, and spent your life trapped
in a body you have no control over. Again, the questions abound. What role might molecular nanotechnology play,
should any of it prove to be possible, in such a scenario? Could tiny machines reconfigure or control
neurons? Might such a superintelligence find a way
to fill the atmosphere with such technology and use it for control? Might it act as a zoo keeper of sorts and
maintain humanity as a toy for its own pleasure? So, there it is. But in the end, I think the most likely scenario
is that we will never see an alien superintelligence because it probably doesn’t care about us,
and is probably impossibly distant should it exist. And as far as creating one of our own, it
may never be possible or, alternatively, we may simply choose not to go that far with
A.I.. Maybe we will have ample warning, near misses
where not so intelligent A.I.’s self-improve and infect networks showing us all how dangerous
they can be before we start playing with the big guns.But it could also go very badly for
us. In any case, one thing is certain, we’ll
find out soon enough. Thanks for listening! I am futurist and science fiction author John
Michael Godier currently eyeing my laptop suspiciously. It ain’t no superintellgence, yet it always
manages to confuse and confound me. I’ve already lost the machine wars and be
sure to check out my books at your favorite online book retailer and subscribe to my channel
for regular, in-depth explorations into the interesting, weird and unknown aspects of
this amazing universe in which we live.