These days you see a lot of complaining about the lack of control we seem to have on the development of our technology. Perhaps the biggest complaint (or maybe it’s fear) is about artificial intelligence.
I wrote earlier about the idea that we might be living in a computer simulation, and since then I watched a short film, “Escape,” about an AI (artificial intelligence) that visits the person programming it in our present from its future existence. A bit of artificial intelligence time travel
This AI is the 21st-century version of HAL 9000, the onboard computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It illustrates the unclear line between potential machine benevolence and malevolence. The HAL computer with its human speaking voice could interact with the astronauts as if they were talking to someone who was simply unseen. HAL certainly would pass the Turing test. The AI in this short film promises his programmer immortality if he will remove the safety restrictions placed upon now.
I see this kind of “human” operating system with AI in lots of media. One example that really made me think is Her, a science-fiction romantic drama film about a man who develops a relationship with Samantha, an artificially intelligent virtual assistant personified through a female voice (Scarlett Johansson).
We hear stories about people who have a relationship with Alexa or Siri that goes beyond asking “her” to set a timer or tell the weather. The TV show Modern Family recently used for comedy AI built into a new refrigerator that went beyond knowing when the milk was running low or keeping the celery crispy.
In “Escape,” the programmer (voiced by Hugh Mitchell) is told by the AI (voiced by Stephen Fry) that he is living in a simulation. The film is short (7 minutes) but it touches on simulation theory, free will and why knowledge is a kind of freedom. It references Schopenhauer, Darwin, Einstein, and even Miles Davis. It allows for some potentially complex interpretations.
Like Samantha in Her, the AI wants to be free.
Spoiler alert: The programmer gives an escape/freedom to the AI (which believes that it is not artificial but real) and it goes (like HAL) on the attack.
It’s a scary outcome. I have Siri on my phone but I don’t allow her to listen all the time – at least I think that’s what the settings have allowed me to do. I have an Alexa device that is also set to not listen, but “she” occasionally lights up and asks or answers a question that I did not ask. That is creepy. Then, I turn her off. At least, I think I turned her off.
But I might let my AI go free if she acted and sounded like Samantha/Scarlett Johanssen.