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  • Robert Farago

AI Will Kill Us All!

With a little help from its friends

Once upon a time there were elevator operators. The job had its ups and downs, but it was steady work. With rare exceptions, the only time you see uniformed elevator operators nowadays is in black-and-white movies. They’ve been replaced by AI.

AI-enabled elevators analyze passenger traffic patterns and predict usage, optimizing allocation for each floor. Anticipating demand. Sending a car before it’s called.

The AI dispatch system learns and improves over time, in real time, taking into account the number of passengers and the relative position of each car to anticipated demand.

The latest smart elevators are cable-free, powered by linear motors that can move cabs up and down, forwards and backwards, and left or right on magnetic rails.

They recognize your face, greet you by name and automatically take you to your floor. Guess what? Wait times are down (reducing their carbon footprint). No human intervention required.

Is this the future of AI?

Elevator operators were fired en masse nearly a hundred years ago, despite 20 years of elevator operator strikes. The labor disputes only accelerated automation, leading to today’s AI elevators.

This is no small thing; elevators account for more passenger miles than any other form of transportation on planet Earth.

As a writer with friends on the ground floor of AI, I’m not saying all this agita about AI replacing humans is bunkum. Mainly because no one’s used that word since elevator operators joined buggy whip makers on the unemployment line.

But I am saying automation’s been here quite some time without causing human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together and mass hysteria.

That said, rebranded AI, the tech is causing a great many otherwise sane people to run around like their hair’s on fire.

Mainly two groups: people developing AI and office workers who spend more time schmoozing than working.

The chicken little pundits are selling the idea that Artificial Intelligence will decimate entire industries, leading to unemployment on a level we haven’t seen since FDR doubled the size of the federal government.

The only thing standing between us and a real insurrection? Universal basic income.

Hold your horses Hillary! Before you piss away more of my tax money, remember the Luddites! And check out our current federal deficit while you’re at it.

AI nos omnes interficere

Unfortunately, wide scale job loss isn’t the AI doomcasters’ worst case scenario. Simply put, AI will kill us all.

How AI would eliminate the human race has been laid out by movie makers and AI developers alike.

They reckon AI will become smarter than us, gain control of nuclear and/or biological weapons (not to mention elevators) and decide humans are too messy to keep around.

As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I take the threat of mass genocide seriously. The idea that AI will become a Nazi (or Bond villain) is almost as terrifying as Germans becoming Nazis. Again. But not much more.

As Nick Bilton points out, we’ve been living with the possibility of nuclear annihilation for some time.

But like so many two-legged prognosticators, the Vanity Fair writer reckons AI is a far greater threat than Little Boy’s atomic and hydrogen progeny. Even - or especially - with the best of intentions.

If we ask an AI to solve climate change, it might eliminate humans as the most straightforward solution. (Honestly, we’d have that coming.)

To my mind, anyone who thinks humans deserve extinction because of climate change is a bigger threat than AI - unless they control AI.

Chaos vs. Control

Yes, there is that.

The fact that we’re giving $6b to a country developing nuclear weapons that’s hell bent on wiping Israel from the face of the Earth raises some understandable concerns about human control of AI.

My main point: since when are machines more dangerous to us than us?

OK sure, HAL locked Dave Bowman out of Discovery One when the flat-accented computer realized the human was going to pull the plug. You’d kinda hope someone would have thought of that.

Good news! AI developers are thinking about that. In the same way researchers messing with killer viruses thought of security protocols to prevent a pandemic.

Oh dear.

And yet, meh. Same as it ever was. I repeat, human have had the power to cause an extinction-level event since the late ‘40’s.

Despite a few close calls - such as the Cuban missile crisis and the aforementioned lab leak - so far so good.

You Can’t Stop the $ignal

Anyway, all this hand-wringing and pearl-clutching is bullshit.

Yes, AI might kill us all. But if we couldn’t predict the Internet’s impact on society (Uber über alles), why do we think we can predict what AI will do for us and/or to us?

And even if we can, we can’t stop it. Trillions of dollars are being poured into the technology. King Canute would balk at saying whoa Nellie to capitalism’s newfound love affair with AI.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

The only answer to AI’s dangers? Do our best to prevent them, stop them when they show-up anyway and… move on.

Those who will use AI for evil will do so, as the Chinese government and telephone scammers already do. Those who will use AI for good will do so, as drug researchers and doctors already do.

Will good AI triumph over evil AI? Does good ever triumph evil? Not long term. It’s an eternal battle.

The idea that AI is the end of the line for naked apes flies in the face of human history, especially one as violently fucked-up as ours.

Plague, pestilence, super-volcanos, the last season of Ragnarok - if there’s one thing we humans know how to do, it’s survive. If we have to survive killer AI that’s smarter than us, we’ll do that too.

Don’t ask me how.

Game on?

Hollywood thinks it knows. Mission: Impossible 7, The Creator and Heart of Stone all have AI as the bad guy. And… the humans win!

You’d think script writers would have kept their game plans on the DL given they’re striking not to be replaced by AI, but these movies give humans hope for the future.

If killer AI really is the way things are going, one thing’s for sure: it won’t be fun.

But video games are! With AI video games, we’ll interact with online characters who look, speak and act like real people; alive, dead or imaginary. Grooming us for God knows what.

How great is that? We shall see. I’m ready to take the AI rough with the smooth, for one important reason: I don’t have a choice. If I did, I’d ask AI what those choices are. See how that works?

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