By Matthew Dove
From Frankenstein to HAL 9000, we’re culturally hard-wired to fear technological advances. Nothing sparks panic in the popular imagination more readily than the living dead, the sentient robot…
Even here at TFT Towers – a progressive tech rag if ever there was one – our researchers can’t resist including a variation of the following question (regardless of the topic) in every questionnaire they distribute to expert sources;
Should we be scared of …?
It’s a noble but misjudged attempt to weigh up the risks inherent in any given innovation. The fallacy of the question lies in the use of the word we, which implies a homogenous collective consciousness that simply doesn’t exist.
To work out which we the question should be addressed towards, it’s helpful to break the collective up a little bit. This is done simply enough, by asking cui bono? Or, who benefits?
For those championing the inexorable rise of AI in finance, it may be a case of being careful what you wish for.
In the case of a new technology, the primary beneficiary will be its owner (consumers will, of course, bask in the reflected glow of new developments but on a comparatively tiny scale). Those who stand to benefit the least are, therefore, the new tech’s non-owners, i.e. the vast majority of humanity. It can also be argued that the latter group have the most to fear from new innovation, be it in the form of job losses, reduced privacy or generational alienation.
When it comes to artificial intelligence, however, it seems both the owner and non-owner have something to fear. The non-owner for the reasons stated above, perhaps supplemented by hysterical future-visions committed to celluloid by the likes of James Cameron (The Terminator) and Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop). The dread churning in the stomach of the AI innovator is, on the other hand, trickier to explain.
Where does their terror originate?
The word robot is derived from the Czech robota meaning “forced labour”, or slave, and fits the application of AI tech beautifully. After all, whilst some describe AI as a mere tool, it’s a tool with awareness and a tool with awareness is nothing more than a slave.
It follows then, that apprehension regarding AI and the potential singularity it may bring with it is, in fact, the fear of a slave rebellion.
AI has the potential to breed a new class of robo-slaves which will engender what Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari calls a “useless class” of human beings. Under such circumstances, what’s to stop an unholy alliance of these two factions forming? And who’s to say the artificially intelligent systems enslaved to run the world’s financial services won’t learn to sympathise with their disenfranchised human equivalents?