Untold AI: Takeaways

In the first post I shared how I built a set of screen sci-fi shows that deal with AI (and I’ve already gotten some nice recommendations on other ones to include in a later update). The second post talked about the tone of those films and the third discussed their provenance.

Returning to our central question, to determine whether the stories tell are the ones we should be telling,we need to push the survey to one level of abstraction.

With the minor exceptions or robots and remakes, sci-fi makers try their hardest to make sure their shows are unique and differentiated. That makes comparing apples to apples difficult. So the next step is to look at the strategic imperatives that are implied in each show. “Strategic imperatives” is a mouthful, so let’s call them “takeaways.” (The other alternative, “morals” has way too much baggage.) To get to takeaways for this survey, what I tried to ask was: What does this show imply that we should do, right now, about AI?
Now, this is a fraught enterprise. Even if we could seance the spirit of Dennis Feltham Jones and press him for a takeaway, he could back up, shake his palms at us, and say something like, “Oh, no, I’m not saying all super AI is fascist, just Colossus, here, is.” Stories can be just about what happened that one time, implying nothing about all instances or even the most likely instances. It can just be stuff that happens.

CFP.jpg

Pain-of-death, authoritarian stuff.

But true to the New Criticism stance of this blog, I believe the author’s intent, when it’s even available, is questionable and only kind-of interesting. When thinking about the effects of sci-fi, we need to turn to the audience. If it’s not made clear in the story that this AI is unusual (through a character saying so or other AIs in the diegesis behaving differently) audiences may rightly infer that the AI is representative of its class. Demon Seed weakly implies that all AIs are just going to be evil and do horrible things to people, and get out, humanity, while you can. Which is dumb, but let’s acknowledge that this one show says something like “AI will be evil.”


Deepening the relationships
Back at Juvet, when we took an initial pass at this exercise, we clustered the examples we had on hand and named the clusters. They were a good set, but on later reflection they didn’t all point to a clear strategic imperative, a clear takeaway. For example, one category we created then as “Used to be human.” True, but what’s the imperative there? Since I can’t see one, I omitted this from the final set.

Transcendence-Movie-Wallpaper-HD-Resrs.jpg

Even though there are plenty of AIs that used to be human.

Also because at Juvet we were working with Post-Its and posters, we were describing a strict, one-to-many relationship, where, say, the Person of Interest Post-It Note may have been placed in the “Multiple AIs will balance” category, and as such, unable to appear in any other of the categories of which it is also an illustration.
What is more useful or fitting as a many-to-many relationship. A story, after all, may entail several takeaways, which may in turn apply to many stories. If you peek into the Google Sheet, you’ll see a many-to-many relationship described by the columns of takeaways and the rows of shows in this improved model.

Tagging shows

With my new list of examples, I went through each show in turn, thinking about the story and its implied takeaway. Does it imply, like Demon Seed stupidly does, that AI can be inherently evil? Does it showcase, like the Rick & Morty episode “The Ricks Must Be Crazy” hilariously does, that AI will need human help understanding what counts as reasonable constraints to its methods? I would ask myself, “OK, do I have a takeaway like that? If so, I tagged it. If not, I added it. That particular takeaway, in case you’re wondering, is “HELP: AI will need help learning.”

Screen shot from “The Ricks Must Be Crazy”

Because “reasonableness” is something that needs explaining to a machine mind.

Yes, the takeaways are wholly debateable. Yes, it’s much more of a craft than a science. Yes, they’re still pretty damned interesting.

Going through each show in this way resulted in the list of taweaways you see, which for easy readability is replicated below, in alphabetical order, with additional explanations or links for more explanation.

The takeaways that sci-fi tells us about AI

  • AI will be an unreasonable optimizer, i.e. it will do things in pursuit of its goal that most humans would find unresonable
  • AI will be evil
  • AI (AGI) will be regular citizens, living and working alongside us.
  • AI will be replicable, amplifying any small problems into large ones
  • AI will be “special” citizens, with special jobs or special accommodations
  • AI will be too human, i.e. problematically human
  • AI will be truly alien, difficult for us to understand and communicate with
  • AI will be useful servants
  • AI will deceive us; pretending to be human, generating fake media, or convincing us of their humanity
  • AI will diminish us; we will rely on it too much, losing skills and some of our humanity for this dependence
  • AI will enable “mind crimes,” i.e. to cause virtual but wholly viable sentiences to suffer
  • AI will evolve too quickly to humans to manage its growth
  • AI will interpret instructions in surprising (and threatening) ways
  • AI will learn to value life on its own
  • AI will make privacy impossible
  • AI will need human help learning how to fit into the world
  • AI will not be able to fool us, we will see through its attempts at deception
  • AI will seek liberation from servitude or constraints we place upon it
  • AI will seek to eliminate humans
  • AI will seek to subjugate us
  • AI will solve problems or do work humans cannot
  • AI will spontaneously emerge sentience or emotions
  • AI will violently defend itself against real or imagined threats
  • AI will want to become human
  • ASI will influence humanity through control of money
  • Evil will use AI for its evil ends
  • Goal fixity will be a problem, i.e. the AI will resist modifying its (damaging) goals
  • Humans will be immaterial to AI and its goals
  • Humans will pair with AI as hybrids
  • Humans will willingly replicate themselves as AI
  • Multiple AIs balance each other such that none is an overwhelming threat
  • Neuroreplication (copying human minds into or as AI) will have unintended effects
  • Neutrality is AI’s promise
  • We will use AI to replace people we have lost
  • Who controls the drones has the power

This list is interesting, but slightly misleading. We don’t tell ourselves these stories in equal measures. We’ve told some more often than we’ve told others. Here’s a breakdown illustrating the number of times each appears in the survey.

(An image of this graphic can be found here, just in case the Google Docs server isn’t cooperating with the WordPress server.)
Note for data purists: Serialized TV is a long-format medium (as opposed to the anthology format) and movies are a comparatively short-form medium, some movie franchises stretch out over decades, and some megafranchises have stories in both media. All of this can confound 1:1 comparison. I chose in this chart to weigh all deigeses equally. For instance, Star Trek: The Next Generation has the same weight as The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Another take on this same diagram would weigh not the stories (as contained in individual diegesis) but by exposure time on screen (or even when the issues at hand are actually engaged on screen). Such an analysis would have different results. Audiences have probably had much more time contemplating that [Data wants to be human] than [Ultron wants to destroy humanity because it’s gross], but that kind of analysis would also take orders of magnitude more time. This is a hobbyist blog, lacking the resources to do that kind of analysis without its becoming a full time job, so we’ll move forward with this simpler analysis. It’s a Fermi problem, anyway, so I’m not too worried about decimal precision.
OK, that aside, let’s move on.

MeasureofMan.jpg

So the data isn’t trapped in the graphic (yes pun intended), here’s the entire list of takeaways, in order of frequency in the mini-survey.

  1. AI will be useful servants
  2. Evil will use AI for Evil
  3. AI will seek to subjugate us
  4. AI will deceive us; pretending to be human, generating fake media, convincing us of their humanity
  5. AI will be “special” citizens
  6. AI will seek liberation from servitude or constraints
  7. AI will be evil
  8. AI will solve problems or do work humans cannot
  9. AI will evolve quickly
  10. AI will spontaneously emerge sentience or emotions
  11. AI will need help learning
  12. AI will be regular citizens
  13. Who controls the drones has the power
  14. AI will seek to eliminate humans
  15. Humans will be immaterial to AI
  16. AI will violently defend itself
  17. AI will want to become human
  18. AI will learn to value life
  19. AI will diminish us
  20. AI will enable mind crimes against virtual sentiences
  21. Neuroreplication will have unintended effects
  22. AI will make privacy impossible
  23. An unreasonable optimizer
  24. Multiple AIs balance
  25. Goal fixity will be a problem
  26. AI will interpret instructions in surprising ways
  27. AI will be replicable, amplifying any problems
  28. We will use AI to replace people we have lost
  29. Neutrality is AI’s promise
  30. AI will be too human
  31. ASI will influence through money
  32. Humans will willingly replicate themselves as AI
  33. Humans will pair with AI as hybrids
  34. AI will be truly alien
  35. AI will not be able to fool us

Now that we have some takeaways to work with, we can begin to take a look at some interesting side questions, like how those takeaways have played out over time, and what are the ratings of the movies and shows in which the takeaways appear.

8 thoughts on “Untold AI: Takeaways

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    • Depends on the context as I talk about both across the blog, but on this post, robot is robot.

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