Prophets of the Technological Future

Prophets of the Technological Future June 1, 2015

I had been meaning to blog about the movie Ex Machina for a while now. It makes explicit the potential for the creation of artificial intelligence to be thought of in terms of godlikeness. It is interesting that, whenever we imagine creation of sentient beings taking place, whether in Genesis or sci-fi, they never fail to rebel against their creator(s). Does this reflect the impact of Genesis? Or does all this human storytelling, Genesis included, reflect our experience with children, made in our image, who inevitably have to rise up against the authority of parents in order to carve out their own identity? How do stories about AI help us to get a different perspective on Genesis, and vice versa?

Jim Davila pointed out an article about whether human nature has more to do with inner conflict than thought, and the implications of this for artificial intelligence. Nature and Commonweal also had pieces about Ex Machina. Horace Jefferey Hodges suggests that the movie was Turing testing us the viewers, and that in most cases we failed.

Yuval Noah Harari predicts that we will be God-like cyborgs within 200 yearsMarginalia Review of Books looked at Silicon Valley’s outlook in religious terms. Business Insider explored Ray Kurzweil’s law of accelerating returns. Nick Bostrom gave a TED Talk about what happens when our computers become smarter than we are. And there was also an article by a transhumanist candidate for president.

And finally, a cartoon courtesy of People in White Coats:

AI-1a AI-1b AI-2a

"Thankyou. I love this classic Asimov story."

How It Happened (Isaac Asimov)
"Might I also add a couple of things which reminded me of The Time Machine. ..."

Doctor Who: Orphan 55
"The revelation has been done before--see Planet of the Apes--but it works because it's true. ..."

Doctor Who: Orphan 55
"Thanks for finding all the little nuances, some I recognized and some I didn't."

Doctor Who: Orphan 55

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  • Gary

    “Or does all this human storytelling, …”; seems like storytelling by its nature has conflict. Otherwise, no conflict, no story. Boring, just another day, with nothing happening out of the ordinary. No one would listen to it, or read it. (Unless it is about sex, or a cookbook, of course).

  • Andrew of MO

    I like the comic strip a great deal, and there is a lot of food for thought in it. One of the questions I had when watching the revised Battlestar Galactica was what does one do when treating an AI that looks like you but is not you. The question came down, for me, to “What you do to it is ultimately more of a statement on who and what you are than who or what it is.” The torture and treatment of the various android Cylons demonstrated our unwillingness to extend our humanity. Granted, the Cylons were committing genocide, but what you do in the face of extinction speaks, again to me, at least, of the kind of species, the kind of people you are.

    Ultimately, it made for an intriguing comparison when the Galactica encountered the Pegasus. As problem-filled as the Galactica was, the Pegasus seemed utterly diseased. We of course learned the backstory, but did not change the outcome. The Galactica and the larger fleet ultimately held on to their humanity, even in the face of extinction, by finding common cause with their “children.”

  • David Evans

    I’m sure I’ve read several SF works in which the AIs did not rebel against their creators. Examples:

    Algis Budrys Michaelmas.

    Isaac Asimov The Caves of Steel (and, in fact, most of his robot stories).

    Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels (the AIs may think they know best, and try to guide humanity, but they certainly don’t want to dominate or destroy us).

    Thomas J. Ryan The Adolescence of P-1 (a borderline case. P-1 has no respect for property rights or human life in general, but is distressed and commits suicide when his creator is killed)

    • Thanks for highlighting these. Do you think it would be fair to say that these are atypical? I ask it as a genuine question. There is far more science fiction literature than most of us can ever hope to read, and so it is always possible that my impression of what view of AI predominates may have to do with what I have read and watched, and not what is typical.

      • David Evans

        That is a difficult question. I’m fairly selective about what I read, and I may have avoided some of the “rebel AI” type as too predictable. Also I tend to stick with authors I know. I think those I mentioned are probably atypical of the genre.

    • More recently there is CASE and TARS, the AI units in Interstellar (though I didn’t care for the film overall).

      Also, the Minions in Despicable Me, the Robot in Robot & Frank, and (of course) C3PO and R2D2 in the Star Wars world of films.

      • I kept expecting the robots in Interstellar to wreak havoc, and it was a nice surprise that they didn’t in the ways we’ve come to expect.

        The treatment of restraining bolts and other aspects of “droidhood” in the Star Wars universe is also interesting. There is that conversation between Obi Wan and Dex in the diner that is intriguing, suggesting that if droids could think, none of them (as biological beings) would be left.

        See also my chapter from Religion and Science Fiction about artificial intelligence:

  • David Evans

    That AI is somewhat arrogant, despite being unable to spell “silicon”. It thinks it is immune from an asteroid strike. I have news for it. It isn’t.