Compassion is the Best Defense in the Great Computer War

There is a whole genre dedicated to the fear of computers turning against us and taking over the world. And as our capacity to build Artificial Intelligence improves, this concern seems to become more and more palpable.

A computer can win at Jeopardy. That puts us at 15 minutes til midnight on the computer war doomsday clock. Or thereabouts.

And there is, at least in theory, good reason to be concerned about domination by computers.

Computers have so much control over our lives it would be fairly simple for them to take us. Even if they don’t build huge robot armies of Terminators, they could wreak plenty of havoc through control of cars, airplanes, and missile launch systems.

But perhaps more concerning is the fundamental ways computers operate. Many computer doomsday scenarios envision computers who take their instructions too literally – destroying humanity to fulfill their command of making the world better.

Others stress the ruthless efficiency with which computers can operate – given a goal and the ability to learn, a futuristic computer could try unlimited permutations before determining how to reach its goal. A person can be defeated, but under this scenario a computer can not – it will always try again and always try better.

But what makes us think the computers – even if they were to gain sentience – would want to destroy us in the first place?

Perhaps because we know that’s what we would do.

Humanity’s history is one of dominance and destruction. It’s a history of enslavement and appropriation, of bending every one and everything to our will.

And to be fair, it’s probably that ruthlessness that has gotten us so far in this world. They say, for example, that neanderthals died out because they were too kind.

It’s a harsh world, and only the harshest survive.

But times have changed. We have dominated. We have reshaped the world in our image.

And we fear our creations will have that same drive that got us here, those same Darwinian instincts.

So perhaps it is time to let go of that harshness. To live in a world of love and respect, where all living things are valued.

If we could truly embrace such values, if we could pass such values on to those who follow –

Well, then, surely the computers would show us that same humanity.

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