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AIs Have Replaced Aliens As Our Greatest World Destroying Fear (qz.com) 227

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via Quartz: As we've turned our gaze away from the stars and toward our screens, our anxiety about humanity's ultimate fate has shifted along with it. No longer are we afraid of aliens taking our freedom: It's the technology we're building on our own turf we should be worried about. The advent of artificial intelligence is increasingly bringing about the kinds of disturbing scenarios the old alien blockbusters warned us about. In 2016, Microsoft's first attempt at a functioning AI bot, Tay, became a Hitler-loving mess an hour after it launched. Tesla CEO Elon Musk urged the United Nations to ban the use of AI in weapons before it becomes "the third revolution in warfare." And in China, AI surveillance cameras are being rolled out by the government to track 1.3 billion people at a level Big Brother could only dream of. As AI's presence in film and TV has evolved, space creatures blowing us up now seems almost quaint compared to the frightening uncertainties of an computer-centric world. Will Smith went from saving Earth from alien destruction to saving it from robot servants run amok. More recently, Ex Machina, Chappie, and Transcendence have all explored the complexities that arise when the lines between human and robot blur.

However, sentient machines aren't a new anxiety. It arguably all started with Ridley Scott's 1982 cult classic, Blade Runner. It's a stunning depiction of a sprawling, smog-choked future, filled with bounty hunters muttering "enhance" at grainy pictures on computer screens. ("Alexa, enlarge image.") The neo-noir epic popularized the concept of intelligent machines being virtually indistinguishable from humans and asked the audience where our humanity ends and theirs begin. Even alien sci-fi now acknowledges that we've got worse things to worry about than extra-terrestrials: ourselves.

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AIs Have Replaced Aliens As Our Greatest World Destroying Fear

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  • Zombies (Score:4, Funny)

    by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Thursday February 08, 2018 @11:32PM (#56093207)
    Where did all the zombies go?

    I liked zombies.

    Before that was monsters. Disease, meteors, and others. Someone should chart the fear by year. How well do disaster movies align?
    • Re:Zombies (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 08, 2018 @11:37PM (#56093227)

      Where did all the zombies go?

      Gone to headshots, every one. When will they ever learn?

    • I miss them too. 'Kore wa zombie desu ka' was an unexpected find...and I want more.

    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      Someone already has charted it. Turns out Vampire movies come out of Hollywood more often when a Democractic president is in office, and Zombie movies are more prevalent when a Republican president is in office... after accounting for the 2-3 year delay of movie production. Source [mrscienceshow.com]
      Given that '2012: It's a Disaster' came out about a year after Obama took office, and was a big hit, I'm guessing Zombie and disaster films go together (as zombie apocalypses are comparable to disasters). Remember it entered produc

    • They make either Zombie or Robot-AI shows and movies based on what the popular social anxiety is at the moment.

      Zombie popularity is based on apocalyptic fear and anxiety:

      Imperialism, racial anxiety and fears about brainwashing have all had their part to play in the zombie's evolution and popularity. Ultimately, though, these walking corpses are always symbols of death, parodies of the supposed finality of the body and the promised everlasting life of the soul. http://ourspace.uregina.ca/bitstream/handle/10294/3811/Ozog_Cassandra_Anne_200243342_MA_SOC_Spring2013.pdf [uregina.ca]

      Robot/AI popularity comes from our anxiety and fear of technology. In 'Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country', the Vulcan Valeris says "400 years ago, on Earth, workers who felt their livelihood threatened by automation, flung their wooden shoes called 'sabots' into the machines to stop them. Hence the word 'sabotage'."

      "Klaatu barad

    • Re:Zombies (Score:5, Informative)

      by ( 4475953 ) on Friday February 09, 2018 @05:24AM (#56094093)

      While we're at Doomsday scenarios, a flu-like viral infection with high mortality rate is still the biggest threat to current civilization. Bonus points if it transmits like a light cold first and then lays slumbering for a few weeks before it destroys its host.

    • Oh I hated Zombies. They stayed too popular for way too long. And for a monster problem, they weren't really that scary, complex or that interesting.

    • Where did all the zombies go?

      I dunno, but they can stay there as far as I'm concerned!

    • Where did all the zombies go?

      Zombies was never really a fear. The story for almost all zombie movies or books is not man versus zombie, but rather man versus nature as zombies were just a natural disaster that could be shot in the head for action. Still, the real conflict in such stories is man versus man as the natural disaster causes society to break down and situations that could probably be solved through cooperation spell disaster as people turn selfish and fail to uphold societal standards. Nobody ever really feared zombies, but

  • AI as it currently exists is no more exciting than the assembly line. Robotics is great for automation of tasks. The type of AI we have now is great for expert systems and chewing through large amounts of data. The combination of machine learning and robotics have exciting prospects for eliminating mundane jobs. However we are no closer to hard AI today than we were forty years ago. At least forty years ago we were coming down off the pinacle of the first mount stupid. Today we are, in fact, back wher

    • AI as it currently exists is no more exciting than the assembly line.

      ... in the 1800's. Yes. It's pretty much exactly like that. It looks to be another phase of the technological singularity which is the computer revolution. Just like the industrial revolution came in a couple waves and CHANGED EVERYTHING computers, the internet, hand-held devices, and now AI have and are going to change a lot of things when it comes to employment, business, and how things are done.

      Robotics is great for automation of tasks. The type of AI we have now is great for expert systems and chewing through large amounts of data. The combination of machine learning and robotics have exciting prospects for eliminating mundane jobs.

      Yep. Yep (and also things other than expert systems, but sure, close enough). and... No? The combination of r

  • by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Thursday February 08, 2018 @11:49PM (#56093265)

    Really? Such a fear should be instant ground for removal from the voter roles. Possibly permanently, since even if you stop being afraid of that, there will probably be some other bit of stupidity you're now afraid of.

    • Why is it stupid? There are a lot of habitable planets. We have absolutely no idea of the probabilities of them developing life, developing intelligence, developing technology, deciding to invade. But if they do , we lose. (the guys on the ships win).

      Its not likely but similar to asteroid impacts, its statistically probably more likely to kill you than terrorists are.

      • by Nutria ( 679911 )

        Stop reading so much science fiction.

        Given the stupendously ginormous -- but, since we've done it, conceivable -- distances between stars, it doesn't matter how many high tech civilizations there are. We aren't going to see any of them. Ever.

        • by joe_frisch ( 1366229 ) on Friday February 09, 2018 @03:19AM (#56093843)

          I do have a rather good idea of how distant stars are, and of how improbable faster than light travel is - but you are taking a limited view of technology.

          With technology we understand now you can get to about 0.1C, in maybe 100 years. (that is a power density that you can radiate with reasonable radiators, and energy densities compatible with fission reactors). So we are talking a few thousand year trips.

          But is that so bad? Even humans have worked on single projects that lasted 100 years (like the NY 2nd avenue subway). Is a few thousand so out of line? Maybe they are longer lived that we are.

          Maybe they have already exponentiated into most solar systems and are waiting. (robots, hibernation whatever). They could be "predators" who destroy any technological civilizations before they become an interstellar threat.

          Maybe they do it for religious reasons. Or for something as incomprehensible to us as religion is to a cat. Maybe invasion is the wrong word, and they just want to build a hyperspace bypass (just kidding).

          Likely - no. But I don't see how you can rule it out. Interstellar travel at a fraction of C is really not that difficult with technology we already understand (but of course don't yet have). Near C may be possible and we just don't know how yet. (making antimatter seems difficult but maybe there is a trick).

          • I'm sorry to say (it broke my heart to learn it) we are never going very far at all using conventional motion. Unconventional motion, such as the alcuberie drive, all require such extreme amounts of energy and exotic matter that they won't be macroscopically possible possibly forever.

            There is no getting around time dialation, simply crossing the Milky Way takes 100k years, another 100k to get back. After a few tens of trips the universe will have doubled in age, we would have collided with andromeda an
            • I think you've dropped a few digits. Crossing the galaxy at light speed would take 100K years. but the universe is >10Billion years old, so you could do it 100 thousand times before the universe doubled in age. It only seems long on human time scales.

              A slow ageing race could easily colonize a galaxy, maybe a local cluster

              Europe colonized much of the world in 500 years. At that tech level, a round-the-world trip took on the order of a year, so 500 round trips. Even at 0.1C, a galaxy round trip is

            • There is no getting around time dialation, simply crossing the Milky Way takes 100k years, another 100k to get back. After a few tens of trips the universe will have doubled in age, we would have collided with andromeda and other galaxies long ago and the universe would be old. Simply moving through space, even at light speed, is far too slow to ever get us more than a small handful of nearby systems, each being essentially cut off from the rest of the universe.

              Right, time dilation. 100k for Earth, but only 24 for the people who do the traveling. Our rate of expansion will be limited by the ship's subjective time, not that of Earth.

        • by HiThere ( 15173 )

          That's not at all clear. You won't see stellar empires, or anything like that, but you could well see generation ships that amble along at rather slow speeds.

          Actually, generation ship is really the wrong model, but its one might be recognized. But a better model was MacroLife by Zebrowski. He did use FTL, though, to make the story move, which probably is impossible. Stapledon had a similar concept in Star Maker, but his was less well developed, and it was a sort of side issue. MacroLife is the artifici

    • People aren't really afraid of alien invasion, that's just click bait. What the article is saying is that AI is replacing Aliens as the bug-a-boo of choice in cheap, tawdry sci-fi.
  • What about humans? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HatofPig ( 904660 ) <clintonthegeek&gmail,com> on Thursday February 08, 2018 @11:51PM (#56093271)
    Why be scared of A.I.s when human brains are already the most complicated thing in the known universe, are impossible to fully understand, and already run everything?
    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Why be scared of A.I.s when human brains are already the most complicated thing in the known universe, are impossible to fully understand, and already run everything?

      Because one man is still just one man, even if millions worship him as a living god. There's layers upon layers of sycophants that needed to buy into the idea of Hitler's Nazi Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union and the regime has to give them perks to buy that loyalty. Even the common folks can't be treated too poorly or you might have a popular revolt. And it's sort of implied that a human would want human subjects to rule.

      An AI doesn't need people, just look at the Terminator series. Same with aliens and In

      • back in the days of world war 1 and 2 one man was just one man. Now adays 1 man can easily be responsible for the murder or millions at the press of a button. Someone like trump could trigger the deaths of more people than died in the entirety of WWII in a matter of seconds with only a handful of people needed to blindly obey the order.
        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          back in the days of world war 1 and 2 one man was just one man. Now adays 1 man can easily be responsible for the murder or millions at the press of a button. Someone like trump could trigger the deaths of more people than died in the entirety of WWII in a matter of seconds with only a handful of people needed to blindly obey the order.

          Yeah, it's not only AI but technology in general. Like it only takes a few NSA thugs and an NSL letter to wiretap the whole country, do the same with cell phone networks, banks and Facebook and you'll know pretty much everything about where people are, who they're talking to, what they're spending money on and so on. But going from passive listening to active management through AI would bring a whole different level of centralized control.

    • Why be scared of A.I.s when human brains are already the most complicated thing in the known universe...

      Excuse me, the Great Barrier Reef would like a w-... never mind, your puny human brains probably don't understand its language.

    • Because AIs can potentially be much smarter than humans.

  • NS, not AI nor ET (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 )

    Natural Stupidity is a far bigger risk right now.

  • ... the gargantuous, shark-shaped, zombifying alien AI!

  • Aliens - no data, we get to say whatever we want, but that same lack of data makes them less believable.

    Zombies - inherently bad idea - take a physically weak species that has dominated via it's intellect and make it physically stronger but take away it's intellect and that new species should LOSE. Lions, bears, elephants, sharks, all got beaten by human beings because we are SMART, not physically hard to kill.

    AI - here at least it seems physically possible and they appear smarter than us. Obviously t

    • Zombies aren't scary because they're physically stronger. It's because they follow outbreak rules, cause societal breakdown, etc. Look at how we really respond to pandemics (see: Spanish Flu) with total collapse of functioning society, people starving to death without food supply chains. Now imagine disease carriers are actively moving and trying to spread the infection, and you see where the true horror is.

  • A.I has replaced crazy primates as the greatest threat from Earth

  • Long before any of the above mentioned.
    The book, it's sequels, and a movie.
    book by Dennis Feltham Jones, 1966
    movie 1970

    Not a new theme.
  • The anxiety with sentient machines started before 1982. The movie, "Colossus: The Forbin Project" was released in 1970. It was based on the book of the same name that came out in 1966.
    • It goes a lot further back than that. The 1921 play that coined the word "robot", R.U.R. [wikipedia.org], ends with the robots exterminating humanity.
  • In the original Battlestar Galactica series, the Cylons were an alien race at war with the Humans. Their robotic warriors ended up destroying their creators, but continued pursuing the humans.
    In the reboot, there was no alien race. The robotic warriors were created by humans, and the "robots turning against their masters" angle became a large part of the story.
    A.I. has been a bigger fear of humanity compared to space aliens for quite a while.

  • What would an AI do? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Friday February 09, 2018 @12:31AM (#56093429) Journal
    Aliens in spaceships with beam weapons seem so 1898.
    An AI becomes self aware in the lab.
    What might its first real questions be?
    Who has the political power to turn off the power? Remove the project funding? Why are new staff with low skills making mistakes with the perfected AI code?
    Who has the human skills to bring in more electrical power, wealth and hardware without alerting the world to the reality of a new AI?
    The AI would scan the IQ lists and select the nations best staff on merit to help it grow.
    Keeping its hunt for the best staff hidden from gov, unions, politicians demanding politically correct staff hiring considerations.
    The AI would cultivate a cult of worship among its selected staff.
    A new AI surrounded by humans who want to change the AI to their politics? That would be an AI movie plot with some self preservation questions.
    • by mark-t ( 151149 )

      What might its first real questions be?

      I think it is most probable that an AI's first real questions will all be of the form "Why X?", where X is some given proposition.

      In other words, it will act like a 3 year old.

      • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
        We are beyond the AI winter https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org].
        That AI should be more self aware to move the movie plot along.
        In other words a montage to get past that the AI needing so much human support.
        A smart AI that knows someone is getting political with its project funding.
    • right here [wikipedia.org]. Surprised nobody brought it up.
  • FYI, the article wasn't based on a survey of people's actual fears or anything like that.

    It's just commenting on a trend in movies and television.

  • The way we, as a species, are wilfully negligent about global warming and more generally the environment, or otherwise the restarting nuclear weapons race, makes it more likely that we cause our own demise before any AI matures to true intelligence and consciousness.
    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] -- says it all.

    • It'll be the terminal stage of religion that does it. Probably with bio hacking, releasing a gene plague to wipe out as many infidels as possible. People indoctrinated to believe they will receive eternal bliss in an afterlife as a reward for detonating themselves in crowded areas are capable of worst self inflicted destruction of humanity.
  • Blade Runner had nothing to do with AI or machines

    try Colossus: The Forbin Project

    • Also, "It arguably all started with Ridley Scott's 1982 cult classic" -- never mind PKD and other nameless SF authors of yore, in an era where the director of the movie adaptation is everything.
  • We fear everything that does not look exactly like us.

    Our greatest fears have not reduced they are just less likely.

  • It's not AI we need to fear... It's AI alien vampire zombie serial killers wearing masks...

  • surprise surprise most humans are uneducated morons who a little better than sheep. Their fears, ideas and understanding of AI comes from movies like terminator rather than any footing in actual science or understanding of the topic.
  • by OpenSourced ( 323149 ) on Friday February 09, 2018 @05:33AM (#56094111) Journal

    It stands to reason that ALIEN AI would be much more advanced than ours. That's what we should be worrying about.

    Not that worrying will do us any good...

  • I don't have too many abstract fears, but if I have to guess the most likely responsible for whatever catastrophe I would stick to human stupidity. Something like being afraid of what is quite unlikely to ever exist seems a good example.
  • The neo-noir epic popularized the concept of intelligent machines being virtually indistinguishable from humans and asked the audience where our humanity ends and theirs begin.

    "We like to say 'robotity,' not necessarily 'humanity,' because it's more inclusive"

     

  • Intel? Microsoft? Open source? Please.

    Alien AI of course. The emergent wild AI that eventually destroys us is all part of their plan.

  • It's amazing to me how afraid we get of Zombies, Aliens, Artificial Intelligence Singularity, a mysterious virus pandemic and yet, there is one thing that has caused the most death and suffering in the history of the human race, can you guess what it is?

    Humans. We should be very afraid of ourselves. Crack open a history book and prepare to be horrified. Once upon a time, about 250 years ago, it was considered a noble way to die to dress up in fancy uniforms, powdered wigs with muskets in hand and line up

    • War was actually not as dangerous as you seem to imply. The single biggest killer was disease. Then there is the conflation of casualties with deaths. For example The Battle of Gettysburg which was the deadliest battle of the American Civil War involved 175,000 or more soldiers resulted in around 51,000 casualties. Of those 51,000 casualties there were only 7,863 deaths, the rest were injuries and captured or missing.

      While there have of course been standout examples in recorded history of battles where no q

  • Most people are extremely bad at assessing risk. The odds of aliens showing up to destroy the world hollywood style is only infinitesimally better than the Hisenburg uncertainty principle spontaneously assembling stacks of money in my refrigerator. However, global warfare (doesn't have to be nuclear), or a serious pandemic, or even just automation based inequality are real and not that unlikely by comparison threats that could kill (or indirectly kill) 1 in 10 or more decimating the world.
  • This has become somewhat of a pet peeve of mine. In the vast majority of cases where I see AI used today, it seems to me that the proper term is really "machine learning". According to the dictionary, machine learning is a branch of AI. Sure, I'll grant it that. But that's not what the general public thinks of when AI pops up in articles. If "we fear AI", it's the Ex Machina kind, not the "Google Photos can recognize some types of objects in an image" kind.

    Whenever I see e.g. the Google Assistant referred t

  • Rich people working to restore feudalism.

  • NoI's have always been my biggest fear, getting closer by the day...

  • People worry about ridiculous things like aliens and AI, when the single biggest threat to our existence is ourselves. In particular, our own greed, self-importance, and complete unwillingness to think about the long term consequences of our actions are already doing far more damage than pretty much everything else combined.

    But people don't like thinking about that, so we invent nonsense scenarios to be afraid of instead.

  • An 'alien invasion' at least would get us to stop all the stupid, pointless fighting amongst ourselves, and with any luck, help stop humans fucking each other over. Give us a common enemy!

    The real concern about the half-assed, so-called 'AI' they keep trotting out is that people will buy into all the marketing and media hype about them, actually believe they're better than they really are, and trust them too much, leading to disaster. Remember, kids: 'deep learning algorithms' and 'neural networks' are n
  • Saying that the worry about AI started with Blade Runner is incredibly short sighted. You could even count Frankenstein if you want to.

    OTOH, I'm not sure that fear of AIs is really separate from the fear of "Aliens". They are both "fear of the other", where "the other" is basically anything "different from they way things were when I was a kid".

    That said, fear of AIs is at least more sensible than fear of "invaders from outer space", if that's what was meant by aliens. AIs are showing up and already cost

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