We’ve come to a bizarre bend of the river, friends and neighbors, when I find myself agreeing with Elon Musk.
He’s the Tesla guy who thinks he sees the future, and not all of what he sees is comforting. In the other corner is Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook guy who also thinks he sees the future.
They have been getting into it over the rise of artificial intelligence, or simply AI in all the trendy circles. AI, we are told, is going to make it easier for cars to drive themselves and for doctors – or droids? – to cure diseases. That’s for starters.
It’s all going to be skittles and beer, says Zuckerberg, whose main contribution to society has been a mixed blessing at best. Twitter has its vicious back and forth, and a steady diet is probably not good for one’s mental health, but it doesn’t even compare with the dark corners of Facebook, and there are many.
Musk is a little more pessimistic. He gave a speech this month in which he said, "I have exposure to the most cutting edge AI, and I think people should be really concerned by it. AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization."
This isn’t a new idea. In short, the robots will evolve to the point that one day over coffee at Starbucks, a couple of them chat and come to the realization that they no longer need us and furthermore that humans are mostly a hindrance to the overall operation. We have ceased to logically fit into the equation. If we ever did.
Assuming they are armed and aggressive, you can imagine the rest.
I would suggest that maybe both visionaries have a point. For a few years, AI lifts some of our burdens and frees us from the task of, you know, thinking. That’s OK. Look at our track record.
We can see some of the edges of this. Already if you order object A online an algorithm grinds away to helpfully suggest you might want objects B or C.
And, as the man used to say, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. There will be more, on a grander scale. I can’t wait to be nannied 24/7 by the bots.
That will get old. However much we fret and moan about the daily grind of toil and worry, we need something useful to fill our days.
Every promise of a life of leisure and contemplation, brought to us by advances in technology, has proven to be hollow. Maybe it’s just as well. Maybe Musk is right about droids with bad intent. Or maybe their real plan will be for us to just go bonkers with boredom.
– Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter: @FoxEJC