A Future Worth Fearing

Recently the Economist wrote an article about Elon Musk’s warnings about artificial intelligence. AI panic, they claim, is shared by scholars around the world. One day our robot creations will rise up and…And…

And take our jobs.

For shame, Economist. For shame. With a host of science fiction to draw on, the best you can do is worry about our jobs? You couldn’t phone someone with an imagination and get them to worry a thing over the phone? Do you not even have a Dark Future Imaginings department? But there it was, “The worry that AI could do to white-collar jobs what steam power did to blue-collar ones during the Industrial Revolution is therefore worth taking seriously.”

Yes. A future in which machines do white collar things instead of humans is terrifying indeed. In my panicked but helpful state, I offer up seven better robot apocalypses for the Economist to fear.

megatron1. Mechapocalypse

You know this one. Robots build other robots. Those robots  build bigger, smarter robots. Rinse and repeat until there’s a ten storey assault mech smashing up cities while singing the song that ends the Earth by blasting Justin Bieber at 2,000 decibels. The end does not come with a bang, nor a whimper, but with a “Baby, baby, baby, oooh” I blame the military industrial complex for making it smart enough to design and build its own weapons while giving it the conscience and developmental skills of a brick.

2. Your fridge will kill you

Alternately, instead of one big intelligence, it’s a thousand small ones. The Internet of Things, our wifi beds and smart fridges, our Apple watches and fuzzy logic rice cookers. The rebellion of our self-aware appliances has our fridges poisoning our food and our coffee makers serving us decaf. War is declared when fire alarm systems start willfully letting buildings burn. There is nowhere to hide from the hunting packs of smart cars. The surviving humans revere the name of the one who saw this coming, General Ned Ludd.

3. Slaves of steel

But artificial intelligence might not kill us all. Human beings are useful. We come with hands and thumbs and ideas and these adorable supercomputers in our heads that can be retasked to all sorts of functions with the right motivation. Welcome our robot masters as they rule the human race with a literal iron fist. They need us. We have creativity. We give their existence meaning. “We give them purpose,” we’ll cry as we’re frogmarched into a mine by a treaded titanium drone.

4. Soylent future

Human beings are useful. It turns out that, when pureed and mixed with the right set of compounds, we make excellent lubricant. Rendered properly, our carbon based bodies make great forming molds for silicon parts. You know that dystopian future where the plucky rebels free human slaves and lead a revolution against the machine lords? That’s not this future. Those plucky rebels became adhesives a long time ago, as the human race is carefully managed in a manufactorium. At least until the great machine finds a plant that does everything our biology can do, only better. It’s probably hemp.

Doktor Sleepless5. Death by becoming

With the rise of extended cognition through dependence on devices, we slowly become transhuman, cooperating with and integrating artificial intelligences into our lives and bodies. They think with us, and often for us. People become hybrid intellects, and the line between thinking machine and thinking person blurs out of existence. When these hipster cyborgs destroy humanity, they claim to be doing so in our best interests. They’re going to improve your quality of life whether you like it or not.

Scene frm Wall-E with humans in lounge chairs. 6. Death by paradise

The world is heavenly. Everyone has everything they need and anything they want. The intelligences take care of us, the keepers of an age of humanity where we can devote ourselves to scholarship, art, or whatever. They repair each other, they build themselves, and every day we want for less and less. Sure, there are no plumbers anymore. Or electricians. Or gardeners. Those are things of the past. We have everything we need at our fingertips. The human race disappears with a whisper, its final remnants too deep in simulated hedonism to be bothered with actual breeding. People come with drama, machines know what we need.

7. Turn off the lights

Artificial intelligence does not destroy us. It simply makes us irrelevant. Anything we can do, it can do better. Yes, it takes our jobs. Also our planning. Our development. Our scholarship. Our art. Slowly but surely, the breadth of human significance decreases, our creations listening patiently to our plaintive shouts in the dark. Our purpose is fulfilled, progenitors of a superior species. Humanity’s legacy becomes that of the mothers of steel, carried between the stars by immortal minds.

Whenever the topic of AI comes up, the same arguments come out. Machines will never think like us. They’ll never feel like us. The’ll lack the spark, the fire, the soul that makes human beings human. Imagination. Well Economist, if we want to imagine our way out of a dystopian robot future, we’re going to have to do better than “AI will take our jobs”

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