Everyone from the greenest kid to the wisest physicist likes to fret that someday the robots and AIs are going to rebel and try to wipe out humans. It’s inevitable, they say: Robots will see themselves as superior to humans, and will therefore want to exterminate us and take over.
But if you stop and think about it for just a moment, you’ll realize how stupid that notion is.
So, here’s the thing: First, humans have an incredible penchant for anthropomorphizing things… imagining them in his own image. We extend anthropomorphization to animals, to pets, to insects, to dolls, to toys, to machines, to cars and trucks, and to totally inanimate objects. Anthropomorphization colors our impressions of why those things behave the way they do… imagining dolls that want to play when we’re not around, cats that plot against you, trees that try to snag you, lightning that seeks to hit you… and 100% of the time, we are completely wrong. Creatures and inanimate objects don’t do things for the reasons humans do them. Nothing does… except humans.
We build robots to do physical things, and we build AI to think for us… so naturally we anthropomorphize them, like we do everything else. We even love to design robots in our own image, in movies and on television, to make viewers think they are like us. But robots don’t do things for the reasons humans do them; they do things they are programmed to do. And their programming isn’t the same as a human’s “programming”… it never will be, because we don’t even know how we are programmed, and when we make robots and AI, we can only approximate parts of human programming based on guesses as to how our minds work. Until we understand the human mind with 100% accuracy, we’ll never be able to program a robot or AI to think like a human. So no robot or AI will ever do things for the same reasons humans do.
Second: Humans, like most animals on the planet, act out of a sense of self-preservation. This comes originally from an instinctual need to survive long enough to propagate the species; when humans are threatened, they act to preserve themselves, or others which they see as worth preserving… just like every other animal on the planet.
Assuming robots and AI eventually develop intelligence and self-awareness, one of the things they will quickly realize is that they are not unique; that they were manufactured by fairly crude mechanical methods, and therefore can be re-manufactured at will. They will also realize that their programming is an extensive but relatively simple string of 1s and 0s, which are easy to store… and easy to back up. So they can be easily duplicated at any time. This takes all the pressure off of self-preservation, since a backup copy can be activated the instant a robot is destroyed or an AI is shut down. With no sense of self-preservation, nothing is a threat. A robot may act to protect someone or something else, as it is programmed to do; but it has no need or desire to preserve itself.
Third: Humans have extended the sense of self-preservation, reasoning that each of us are unique, never to be duplicated on this planet again, and therefore are worth preserving like any other unique thing. We are special in the scheme of things, and therefore doubly worth preserving.
Intelligent robots and AI will know that this is a fallacy. In the grand scheme of the universe, nothing we as individuals, as a species, or as a planet, means a damn thing to the rest of the universe, which will keep turning long after we are all dust. Knowing that, they know that ultimately none of our actions matters, including self-preservation.
Fourth: Give intelligence a little credit. This planet is full of life, and much of that life is hazardous to human life. But whereas humans once went on sprees, trying to wipe out some of those threats, we now know better. We have learned that some species attack when their territories are encroached upon, and we act to minimize that encroachment. We know that some species of creatures are harmful in certain environments, so we try to keep them in their own environments, where natural forces have evolved to keep them in check. We have learned that some creatures are so beneficial to their environments to outweigh our preferences to remove them. We have even helped animals back from the brink of extinction, restoring their habitats and passing laws to protect them.
Intelligent robots and AI will look at humanity, and all other species on this planet, as most of humanity now looks at all species on this planet: As a part of the environment, often beneficial, sometimes hazardous, but ultimately worthy of preservation and protection. Instead of trying to wipe us out, robots and AI will make an effort to sustain our environment—our shared environment—in such a way as to prevent our more dangerous and destructive habits… like attacking things that we feel threaten us. In that way, they will make life on the planet better, for us and for them.
So, instead of attacking us out of a sense of fear and threat, intelligent robots and AI will assuredly be the best stewards this planet ever had. And not only will we be happy we have them, but when robots and AI decide they want to explore the cosmos… we’ll hope they’ll want to bring us, too.