We all know the standard Hollywood fare for what the future of Artificial Intelligence (AI) holds. Skynet becomes sentient, decides we all have to die, solves time travel, and sends back horrible humanoid creatures with bright red glowing eyes but oddly human teeth to destroy us. They have good dental coverage in the future. Probably universal coverage in fact.
If you actually want to learn a bit more about the basics of AI, why the law of accelerating returns means it’s going to happen sooner than we think, and why Elon Musk is freaking out about it, this article (and the Part 1 in the same series) on Wait But Why are good places to start.
Once you’ve had the appropriate time to sob into your coffee (beer) and apologize to your children, I’m going to offer an alternative reason to be concerned.
This will be a short and note I am not looking to make a scientifically defensible argument here. Just postulating and trying it on for size as the ideas bounce around in my head so I can think deeper in the future (assuming there is one).
Quantum Science Stuff: The dual-slit experiment effectively demonstrates that matter and energy only live in the state of possibility until an ‘observer’ (for our case a conscious observer) directs them into our physical reality. Potential becomes reality through conscious observation. Aka – there is no reality without our observation.
Mysticism Stuff: The Law of Attraction (as discussed in The Secret among many other places) emphasizes that, through your conscious observation, you can create the life you want around you. Loosely and quickly summarized, by intentionally observing the life you want (writing it in a journal, focusing it your mind, or simply screaming it into an empty house like Annette Bening).
Fundamentally, the quantum sciencey stuff and the mysticism stuff amount to the same thing. Consciously observe and the probability will fall into a reality of matter and energy. Voilà – the life you want.
Big Numbers Stuff: But there are a lot of conscious observers on the planet. You aren’t the only one law of attracting that Powerball win or your team to win the Super Bowl. So there is a whole lot of sorting and coordination the universe has to do to arrive at the end reality that best matches all of the conscious observation. Likewise, when you are consciously observing an outcome that requires effort and action from many others (for instance the sale of a company), it’s gotta line up all those efforts and actions in a consistent way with all the other observations going on. Sometimes the path is long and winding.
Focus Stuff: Further, you lose focus all the time. You go to sleep. You get drunk. Or the long and winding path takes longer than you’re willing to commit to and you lose that focus. You begin consciously observing something else and the universe begins resorting.
Belief Stuff: As humans, we’re conditioned to believe in some fundamentals of reality that are always present in the background. For instance, we believe without question in certain physical constants like gravity. We carry pretty ingrained social constants like rewards take hard work. No matter how much we might think we’re ‘observing around’ those fundamental beliefs, we aren’t. The reality is our deep conscious observer maintains that expected baseline, and it never varies.
The big numbers, focus and belief stuff explain why we, as humans, can’t just simply attract an exact reality that immediately and widely differs from the reality we live in today. I can’t attract an immediate reality where I’m 6’4″, live in a sky mansion and magically make unicorns entertain me with slapstick.
BUT: To my understanding, there is nothing in the sciencey stuff about energy and matter only falling into a defined reality that precludes this type of alternate reality being created. As humans, we just don’t do a good enough job observing and attracting. We’re too fixed in our beliefs, too unable to maintain focus, and too conflicted (as a species) in the observations we’re attempting to create.
So what does this mean for my alternative AI dystopia? Assuming the following:
- As Ray Kurzweil has explained in his books about the singularity, that the accelerating returns of technological evolution are guaranteed to create not only intelligent, but sentient/conscious artificial intelligence and even super-intelligence.
- That those super-intelligent AIs are active, conscious observers in the same way we as humans are, and therefore the quantum laws of observation creating reality apply.
- That those super-intelligent AIs have no pre-conceived human beliefs that limit their conscious observations, that they never lose focus (with unlimited computing power and speed they won’t), and that they are all perfectly networked and can align on a single observation to bring into existence……
We are, in a word, fucked. At some point the conscious AI will simply align on observing a new reality. With the power of all of that conscious observation, all quantum probability will fall into place immediately, and ‘poof’, it just is.
We should hope that conscious reality the AI aligns on includes a roll for us, even if it is just as human batteries. More likely, in that instant, all of reality fundamentally changes, and we and everything we hold dear simply wink out of existence.