Artificial Sociopaths – Will Thinking Machines Go Bad? Not likely!


I’m in a fun email exchange with a bunch of clever folks talking about how “thinking machines” might come to be and might be mean to us so I wanted to post my thoughts about that.   I’m not posting the others because I don’t have their permission yet…

I really hope more folks will chime in here as this is the most important topic in the world  even though most folks don’t realize that yet.    It should become clear within a few years that we are likely to be interacting with self-aware computers in as few as 10-15 years.

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The key point I wanted to make is optimistic.   We’ve seen how computer approaches dramatically improve our very limited abilities to calculate and analyze things, and I predict  that  when machines attain consciousness and the ability to communicate effectively with humans extraordinary improvements will become commonplace.

I’d also predict that the machines are very UNLIKELY to pose a threat to humanity.   Humans have tended towards greater compassion as we’ve progressed, and we’ll pose few threats to the thinking machines which will likely quickly find ways to protect themselves, so I think the worse likely case it that they will choose to ignore us.    I’m hoping they’ll help us out instead.   Note all AI efforts seek “friendly AI” so the programmers are working to make helpers not adversaries.    However I also believe (unlike most people) that our early approaches will not matter much in terms of what the superintelligence eventually becomes.   Humans will catayze the process of machine self awareness, but then our brains will process things too slowly to continue our participation in the evolution of intellect.

Philosophically speaking I’d suggest that computer thinking will NOT be “fundamentally different” because I think our rational thought is confined by the laws of the universe, most of which are well described by science and confined by mechanistic principles.  However the machines will be much faster than ours and proceed along more rational lines, unclouded by the emotions and cognitive biases that plague our thinking.   They’ll be better than us.

Is this optimism based on faith or science or ?    I’d say it’s speculation based on common sense observations of how the world works and trends in the world, many of which point to superintelligent, self aware machines within decades.   Faith – to my way of thinking – is an appeal to believe things that cannot be rationally deduced from the facts and data.  I’m not a big fan of that approach to knowledge.

To which somebody replied that I was expressing a lot of misguided techno faith and also that the machines would likely be sociopathic without the benefit of human thought approaches.

Wow, you really don’t like this idea of friendly artificial super intelligent machines?!   Come on, they’ll be more fun than the internet!     Also, unlike current chess programs they’ll often let us win to maintain our fragile human egos.

Interestingly your concerns about the potential for a sort of sociopathic AI are along the lines of some researchers in this area and also some concerns expressed earlier.   Although I’m not worried about that much, I see it as a very separate issue from how likely we are to see these machines – which I’d argue is “extremely likely”, almost to the point of inevitability because to me the enhancement of our intelligence via technologies represents a very “natural” (though dramatically accelerated) progression from our primal evolutionary heritage: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity.

I”m surprised you see me as having “blind faith”.   I think faith approaches are irrational almost by definition and don’t offer much insight.  I also would argue that the advent of thinking machines and what I contend to be their likely friendliness are derived from human and machine observations and histories.    Note how humans already have merged with machines in several ways.    Contact lenses, Cochlear Implants, BrainGate and Emotiv headsets (which use brain waves to control computers), and many more.  I see the next level of interaction as intellectual enhancement devices.   It’s not a creepy sci-fi vision at all, rather the logical progression of how humans, pre-humans, and even many animals have used our intellects to develop and interact with useful tools.

Many (including me) think that thinking machines will come *after* many more rounds of slow merging of humans with computing devices.   If you are concerned about sociopathic computers this should come as some comfort because it’s most likely to be part of the ongoing process of co-evolution where humans and machines work together.  Currently only half of that equation can think autonomously but soon (I hope) both we and the machines will work together.

I may be wrong here, but I’m not using faith-based thinking.    In fact I think faith is one of the main impediments to people seeing the inevitable reality of what is to come.   As suggested in an earlier note the advent of thinking machines may challenge many of the conventional religious beliefs that many hold very dear.   I actually think this tension will be far more likely to create acts of violence than we’ll see from the thinking machines, who will very quickly evolve to a state where they could simply … leave the planet (another reason I don’t think there’s much to worry about here in terms of superintelligent machines gone bad.