The Existential Threat of Artificial Intelligence


Jack Forrester, Grand Tsar of Disclosure


   We are living in a time of unparalleled technological advancement. New life-changing technologies are released on the regular, and they are constantly being improved upon. From Tesla’s self-driving cars to Apple’s Siri, these technologies impact our everyday lives in one way or another. At the root of many of these new innovations sits a complicated and often misunderstood field of technology, artificial intelligence. Whether we like it or not, artificially intelligent systems are all around us, and they are getting more and more advanced every day. This raises questions around the future of artificial intelligence, and whether or not its rapid development is a good thing for humans. Will super-intelligent systems of AI improve the overall quality of human life, or will they be the harbingers of our downfall?

   A lot of people have a distorted perception around the concept of artificial intelligence due to the many television shows, movies, and games that like to portray AI in the form of sentient robotic servants or evil supercomputers plotting to destroy humanity. Oftentimes we fail to realize that artificial intelligence is not just a thing of the distant future, and that it exists all around us in the technology that we make use of on a daily basis. The real life systems of artificial intelligence that we have are unlike the super intelligent, free-thinking versions portrayed in the media in that they are created to carry out individual tasks. Be it in a phone, car, or even a fridge, these AI systems are designed to fulfill highly specific functions, and thus the chance of one escaping human control on its own is not possible, at least for now.

   The technology around this largely misunderstood field is improving at a remarkable pace, and there are many pioneers working on systems of AI that might seem more akin to science fiction than real life. The New York Times claims that “Professor Javier Movellan has developed a child-size robot named Rubi that can hold conversations with children, recognize facial expressions, and understand human emotions.” The potential of these increasingly individualistic and intelligent systems of AI is hard to even comprehend at this point in time, and the impacts that they might have on our world are widely disputed. According to the Future of Life Institute, “researchers generally agree that artificial intelligence is unable to exhibit human emotions like love or hate, and that there is no reason to believe that an AI system could become intentionally benevolent or malevolent.” Instead, they consider two possible scenarios in which an AI system could pose a significant threat to humans: An AI system is programmed to do something devastating by humans initially, then the autonomous becomes so advanced that humans can no longer control it, or an AI system is programmed to do something beneficial by humans, but in a strictly logical approach, the system develops a destructive or dangerous method of achieving its goal. Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind companies like SpaceX and Tesla, is firm in his belief that super-intelligent AI is mankind’s greatest existential threat, and he has urged the need for a regulatory body that can oversee the development of artificial intelligence and prevent it from falling out of our control.

   Ipswich High School seniors Gena Lara and Benjamin Gibbs share an interest in the field of artificial intelligence; however the opinions they hold towards the future of this advanced technology could not differ more. When asked about what concerns he has around the rapid development of artificial intelligence, Gibbs stated, “I’m not really concerned about the dangers. I think it’s definitely overblown by Hollywood. Its containable, but we just have to be careful.” Gena, who expressed a much more cautious approach towards the matter, said, “I think that artificial intelligence can get really dangerous if it can take control of itself and begin to think independently, outside of human control.”

   Mr. Poranski, a physics and computer science teacher at Ipswich High School, has adopted a very open-minded perspective on the future of artificial intelligence, basing his opinions solely on what he knows and refusing to jump to any major conclusions. When asked about his concerns regarding the potential threats of super-intelligent AI, Mr. Poranski responded, “Development of software is a human endeavor, there’s always a human involved in that, and humans have flaws. So as long as its something being originated or programmed by a human, there are going to be flaws in the system. Hopefully we don’t lose control of being able to fix these flaws. Could this pose a threat? Possibly.” While discussing the possibility of creating a regulatory body to monitor the progression of artificial intelligence, Mr. Poranski said, “The engineer in me says anytime you regulate something your going to have a less than successful product. You’re wound up to have more problems than maybe you could have solved. At this point, I’m not specifically enamored by a general regulation over AI. We just have to see where it goes. You don’t want to stifle the creativity or the evolution of technology. Maybe it evolves into the exciting artificial intelligence that the media imagines, maybe it doesn’t.”

Whether we choose to move forward with vigilance and strict precautions, or with an emphasis on the freedom of innovation, the evolution of artificial intelligence is bound to continue regardless. On one hand, regulation might hinder this evolution in order to prevent a global crisis from occurring in the future, and on the other, allowing the development of artificial intelligence to go unchecked might allow for technology beyond our wildest dreams to come to fruition within the next decade, but at the cost of an existential threat to mankind potentially becoming real.