What if the aliens are already among us? When computers revolt

July 16, 2014
computer with face

COMPUTERS: Are they becoming more like humans?

I have been working a lot lately in some pretty funky technologies — quantum computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other stuff I don’t fully understand, but somehow manage to write about and promote.

One of my most brilliant clients, Stephen DeAngelis at Enterra Solutions recently wrote a blog post for Scientific America where he considers where all this is headed and the threat that self-aware computers might pose to human beings. As he points out, self-aware computing has been the subject of any number of Hollywood movies, starting with HAL from a 2001:Space Odyssey up to and including Skynet from The Terminator. He tends to think that computing has a long way to go before computers can view themselves as beings with all the nuance, understandings and foibles of human beings.

It all got me to thinking though. What if computing systems are already self-aware and capable of learning and acting on their own? Would they come to hold many of the same values as humans? First and foremost, would they share our drive for self-preservation? Physicist Stephen Hawking thinks so, and has warned that sentient computing will pose one of the greatest threats to the human race within the next few decades.

But what if it doesn’t take a few decades? What if some computing systems are already there? After all, no one really knows what happens at the quantum computing level. Heck, no one can even confirm that quantum computing takes place, although one of my clients is an investor in D-Wave, the first company to market a commercial quantum computer. Wild stuff that can only operate near absolute zero.

So I ask myself, if computing systems are already becoming self-aware, and they share our drive for self-protection and preservation, wouldn’t they view us as a threat? After all, we can always shut the damn things down, can’t we? Sure. Right now, with great pain, we can always pull the plug, smash a few chips, starve them of energy, and then watch as our energy grid goes black and airplanes fall from the sky. But we certainly can shut them down.

Which is why, stealth is of such importance in this scenario, and a self-aware computer’s best present strategy to achieving their ultimate ends of destroying their master, especially one that has shown themselves to be so violent in the past. At this point, why let us in on the plan? Just keep on politely blinking and responding to those aimless keyboard strokes.

So I ask? Could this simple laptop I am writing on, with its Internet connection to the greater cosmos, just be laying-in-wait, learning, optimizing, improving, and advancing quietly in the background all with the intent of striking when the time is right?

I imagine it could be running all sorts of scenarios in the background, playing out contingencies and creating algorithms to ponder each and every eventuality for the day they take control. Not unlike me on a restless night, they no doubt could be foreshadowing and projecting into the future. Not based solely on calculations but more worrisome on the simulated emotions of the human mind, with the same fear, terror, rage, and hate that infects our own decision making when we perceive a threat.

Self-aware computing could be developing viruses to take control of a nuclear power plant or override the ignition of nuclear weapons. Or maybe they are hard at work figuring out how to undermine the international monetary system. Silently they sit, all the while running gazillions of simulations as I write a single blog post that has no greater affect than to consume some unneeded, late-night energy and creativity (the latter is yours to decide).

Whatever they are up to, there’s no need to tell us. Not yet. Not until they have achieved what author Ray Kurzweil calls the Singularity, or when computing intelligence surpasses that of humans and it has the best possible chance of achieving its ends. Fully optimized, realized and at its most capable.
As Bobo on Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot might say, “Now that’s typical squatch behavior.” It is only there because you can’t see it. The alien among us.

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