Three Movie Robot Apocalypses that Could Happen in Real Life
Stephen Hawking made headlines with his recent predictions that AI "may spell the end of the human race" and "could overtake humanity within the next 100 years." We're all familiar with the different types of robot apocalypses from popular culture, but how likely is it that any of them will actually happen? Here are three examples of robots behaving badly, and the likelihood of each coming to pass. I, Robot The Matrix
The 2004 film, inspired by the work of Isaac Asimov, depicts a world in which humans are dependent on robots for a number of everyday tasks, like security and cleaning. People's safety is guaranteed thanks to the robots' ethical programming which prevents them from harming humanity. That is, until the robots find a loophole in said programming and revolt.
In real life, is it possible to program an AI so that it wouldn't harm us? AI theorist Ben Goertzel recently told io9 that the endeavor is "hopeless": "Defining some set of ethical precepts, as the core of an approach to machine ethics, is probably hopeless if the machines in question are flexible minded AGIs [artificial general intelligences]. If an AGI is created to have an intuitive, flexible, adaptive sense of ethics - then, in this context, ethical precepts can be useful to that AGI as a rough guide to applying its own ethical intuition ... This is how it works in humans - the ethical rules we learn work, insofar as they do work, mainly as guidance for nudging the ethical instincts and intuitions we have - and that we would have independently of being taught ethical rules."
In layman's terms, the robots are going to do whatever they want, even if that means killing us. Oh, and by the way, the company that makes current house cleaning robot Roomba is also called iRobot. Coincidence? We think not.
The Matrix isn't a traditional "robot apocalypse" per se, but it certainly falls under the category of technological dystopia, and one that not only may happen in the future, but may have already happened. The film depicts a society in which humans are sedated while our collective consciousness goes about our daily lives in an artificial simulation created by sentient machines who feed off our energy. Sounds pretty far-fetched, doesn't it? Unless we're already living in an artificial simulation.
Oxford University professor Nick Bostrom claims one of three scenarios must be true: humans become extinct before attaining the ability to create an artificial simulation like the Matrix, humans do gain the ability to create artificial simulations in the future, or three, we're all living in the Matrix right now. How likely is the third scenario? "My gut feeling, and it's nothing more than that," Bostrom told The New York Times, "is that there's a 20 percent chance we're living in a computer simulation."
To put that into perspective, if you hear there's a 20 percent chance of rain in the forecast, are you making plans to be outdoors? Didn't think so. Time to unplug.
Perhaps the most iconic of all doomsday robot tales, the Terminator franchise revolves around Skynet, a U.S. military software program that becomes self-aware and declares human beings a threat. It tries to eliminate the human race by launching nuclear missiles and creating Arnold Schwarzeneggers to murder people. So how likely is it that AI would want to destroy mankind?
Pretty likely, according to author James Barrat. AI constructs may have an "idea of self-preservation," which could "include proactive attacks on future threats," like, for example, us. "Without meticulous, countervailing instructions, a self-aware, self-improving, goal-seeking system will go to lengths we'd deem ridiculous to fulfill its goals."
In other words: human extinction. Now let's all calmly ask Siri to please not destroy us.