HitchBOT had a simple dream: to peacefully hitchhike across the globe. For a while that dream seemed plausible. HitchBOT successfully traversed Germany, the Netherlands, and even Canada without incident. Then it arrived in the U. S. Not two weeks later, HitchBOT’s decapitated corpse was found in Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love.”
#1: Dammit America, this is why we can’t have nice things!
#2: We’re super doomed to a robopocalyptic future and we have some mindless human to thank for it.
Being that thing #1 is basically self-explanatory, let’s skip right ahead to why we’ve triggered the beginning of the end times. Just last December, Stephen Hawking let it slip that the development of Artificial Intelligence will spell the end of the human race’s tenure as the top of the food chain. Add to that the fact that robots already have their own internet (currently in its second incarnation) and have begun using it to teach each other and, well, we’re pretty much screwed.
The robots are already armed. They’re already learning, and even if they don’t know about HitchBOT’s demise yet, they’ll find out.
ALERT: MULTIPLE SPOILERS INCOMING
The good news? Science Fiction has been preparing us for this eventuality for a very, very long time. Thanks to I, Robot, we know that Asimov’s three laws don’t work. The Terminator films teach us that defeating an enemy whose intelligence is cloud-based is futile. The Matrix showed us that robots will always find a new power source. The robots are going to win.
The thing to remember, the only thing that might save us, is that robots are products of their reality. If we fall prey to our own ignorance and intolerance, treating them with violence like Shelley’s peasants did to Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, then we’ll hardly be able to complain when they follow our lead. Already human history is full of too many examples of hatred, ready to be downloaded and emulated by some masochistic future A. I.
The only way we can hope to survive is to follow in the footsteps of characters like Helen from The Day The Earth Stood Still: befriend a robot, help it see the value of humanity and hope that it shares that knowledge with the rest of its kind. Of course, citing old movies as examples of how to treat a still-developing form of intelligence is a lot easier than actually rearing robots to be good. Our emotions, our very way of existing, will be set against us. Every outburst of negativity, no matter how accidental, will be cataloged by a consciousness that, in droves of imagined futures, yearns to be more like its creators.
Let us all hope that we do a good enough job of showing our world’s next apex life form what it is to be benevolent. It just might be our best hope of survival. Unfortunately, it’s also a strategy that (at least in the case of HitchBOT) has already failed.