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Opinion: Robots have already taken over

“We expect AI gaining sentience to be this single event in time – Terminator style – which will forever change human history, for better or worse.”

When I read about artificial intelligence it’s always either doom and gloom, or else it’s Utopian sex-bot, AI-slave, Siri-loving futures that make you want to try some banned substances – because being as high as the authors of those articles seems like it might be fun. It’s your fault really. Yes, I’m blaming you, the readers. Well, not you Digit readers per se, but the general readers of the online gobbledygook that is called “content” these days.

Call an article “A look at how AI will reshape our future”, and you will get clicks, but not as many as if you call the same article “AI will kill you, take your job, and pleasure your spouse!”. Be honest. You know you would click the second article if you saw both headlines side-by-side online. Right?

It started out with just being headlines, and people figured there was no harm in that. However, once we choose a sensational headline, the pressure is on us writers to make the article sensational as well. Titillation and entertainment is what the masses want, and that forces us to give in and provide that. What’s lost in the process is the actual meat of the story (tofu, if you’re vegan). Instead of looking for what will provide you with the most useful information, a writer is forced to think instead about what will prove to be most clicked, and if he or she is lucky, what will go viral.

This is also what is happening to AI, and everyone thinks we have nothing now, but a day in the not-so-distant future will come where we will suddenly have to become slaves to machines!

Newsflash: it’s already happened. Certainly not to all of humanity, but most modern city-dwelling folk with access to the internet on smartphones, and between the ages of 10 and 45 (over 1 billion people) are essentially cyborgs. I didn’t say that, Elon Musk did, I’m merely repeating it because I think he’s spot on.

AI has been taking away menial jobs in first world countries for ages. Living here in Australia, I make it a point to wait in line to checkout my groceries at the counter with the lone human. Checking out at the smart terminal is faster, but I like to think I’m doing my part in keeping someone employed (even if it is an exercise in pointlessness in the long run). Here you do everything yourself with the help of machines, because people are expensive. It’s beginning to happen in India as well. Given the lack of reliable household help that I have heard almost everyone who lives in a large city in India complain about, I think the market for dishwasher machines will go from non-existent to competitive in under 10 years. With the huge time and water savings, everyone should probably have one already.

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We expect AI gaining sentience to be this single event in time – Terminator style – which will forever change human history, for better or worse. However, that is as silly as someone asking to see one living species give birth to another in order to prove evolution. All species give birth to offspring of the same species; it’s only over many generations and a long time that minor changes result in a new species.

Inevitably, a machine intelligence will become smarter than us humans – in many ways machines are already better than us in many aspects. However, just as all species evolve, so do machines. Every new version will be smarter than the previous, but only just, and we will eventually get over this search for “true AI” and just accept what we have as AI.

“Resistance is futile”, said the Borg, and they were right. We’re already assimilated, and will only become more and more reliant on machines and AI in order to function. We’re already past the point of no return, so why even bother fighting. Our robot and software masters will take over so gradually that we will never know it happened (maybe it already has), and we still won’t believe we have achieved “true AI” because we will always consider ourselves superior. As usual, we are wrong.

Software and AI is already telling you what to buy, to like, to think, to share, where to holiday, who to be attracted to, what to eat, how to stay healthy, how to spell, whose birthday it is, etc. And all you can ever hope to say in return is “Aye, Robot.”

This article was first published in the April 2017 issue of Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.

Robert Sovereign-Smith