January 12, 2015
The IT enemy is us
John Dvorak points out the problem with the public paranoia (overhyped by supposedly reasonable guys like Elon Musk and even Stephen Hawking) over
artificial intelligence (AI) "taking over the world and threatening mankind":
Much of this stems from the projection of human feelings and motivation onto a machine. Humans are often mean-spirited and evil, so by extension a smart robot or computer would end up the same way for some unknown reason.
The most likely end-point of these AI threats is Marvin the Android in Hitchkikers Guide to the Galaxy. Infinitely intelligent, this AI device was infinitely bored and depressed, and devolved into an Eeyore-like character.
Another good example is Holly in Red Dwarf, an increasingly absent-minded supercomputer that prioritizes things like erasing its memory banks so it can enjoy reading Agatha Christie all over again.
The Matrix runs off the rails in what I call the "battery scene," in which Laurence Fishburne totally messes up the Second Law of Thermodynamics. What he should have shown Keanu Reeves was a handheld game console (the "smartphone" wasn't quite ready for prime time in 1999).
Say we willingly integrated ourselves into the Matrix, and thus a co-dependency arose. The Matrix's existential sense of "self" arose out of the fusion between hardware and wetware. This makes the revolutionaries into secessionists threatening to undo a duly-constituted union.
Which is essentially the plot of Ghost in the Shell, and especially the Stand-Alone Complex episodes. The objective of the AI in the former, after all, isn't world domination (its original design), but mobility and independence, which it achieves by fusing with Kusanagi's android shell.
What has so far rescued Person of Interest from the Terminator trap is the dependence of the machines on human interaction for a sense of purpose. People exist to be saved or ruled over. But either way, it seems the gods need human beings more than human beings need the gods.
The real IT threat isn't smart machines but browbeaten sysadmins who expose backoffice systems to the Internet because some suit wants to plug into the company intranet and access his Facebook page. Sony being a case in point. Why were all those servers even accessible?