You’ve probably seen the movies- the evil AI worldwide computer network decides its human creators are an annoyance, so it manufactures armies of killer androids to exterminate us. It’s one of our favorite dystopian tales, dating all the way back to Karel Capek’s 1920 seminal play, R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which brought the word “robot” to the world’s lexicon. The word originated from the Slavic word roboti, which basically translates as “labor”. To those unfamiliar with the work, it hits all the evil AI buttons- humans create robots to work for them, robots become self-aware and revolt, and eventually drive their former masters into extinction. Sound familiar?
A machine led massacre?
So here we are in the early 21st century and the potential threat of our machines rising up against us is more popular than ever. People are actually building robots now, and they are, indeed, an integral part of our workforce. Factories have come to heavily rely on automated assembly under the control of PLC programmable. At this point it’s highly unlikely an automotive production line is going to suddenly stop painting SUVs black, white, or silver, pull themselves loose from their power supplies, and descend upon us in a whirring, clicking mass bent on vengeance, but just the possibility has become one of modern society’s favourite bogeymen.
Safety guaranteed (maybe!)
In 1942 visionary writer Isaac Asimov wrote his short story Runaround which introduced the famed Three Laws of Robotics. The basic idea was that the robot’s programming would prevent them from being able to harm human beings. That’s great, because nothing ever goes wrong with computer programming, right? Right?
The future and what we should fear
So, is AI really a threat to humanity? I will just leave you with a little anecdote that happened to me around twenty years ago. I bought a microwave from a department store and went to pick it up at the shipping dock out back. There was nobody there. I noticed two machines that resembled ATMs on the wall. The first one’s screen said “Picking up? Enter your purchase info here.” I typed it into the keyboard and a few minutes later my microwave came trundling out on a conveyor belt. I then glanced over at the second machine’s screen, which said “Would you like to work for us? Fill out your information here.”
I wondered if only robots need apply?