Why Artificial Intelligence Won’t Take Over the World

Any “free agent” that operates in our world must have an objective, or it is not going to get very far.

This is true of people. If you ever observe people who “go in circles” or are “stuck” in life – it’s because they have no clear vision/objective. Many people give up on their dreams and objectives in their first few decades of life, and wander aimlessly after that.

However, you’ll also notice that such people are often relatively “benign” – i.e. they may contribute to CO2 release by driving around to aimless jobs and activities, and they may over consume orange-food-colored chips and lite beer… but without an objective, they’re not actively trying to hurt anyone. If hurting someone does happen, it’s almost always an occasional reaction to something they don’t like, and it’s usually focused on just a few people close to that person. This is not the stuff of “taking over the world.”

No. To understand the idea of AI taking over the world, we have to look at the movers and shakers, the people with a plan and objective.

These are the people who have a true impact – be it positive or negative. That’s because they are clear on where they are headed, and they marshal resources to get there.

For AI to have any chance of “taking over” as it’s been portrayed in many blockbuster movies, there would have to be a clear plan and objective “to take over.” It is certainly possible that an advanced AI could have this as an objective, and marshal resources towards that end. It may even make some progress in taking over parts of the world. However, the idea that it would take over the world misses the boat.

If the technology sufficient to build one such AI exists, then that means more can (and likely will) be developed soon thereafter. There is no reason that distinct AI’s developed by different people (or other AI’s) in distinct contexts would all have the same objective. It’s just like people. There are people who’ve sometimes attempted to take over the world with nefarious objectives (such as Hitler) – but fortunately, there were other people with other objectives that pushed back and stopped it. It is silly to think that there would be one “unified goal” for ALL AI of “taking over the world.” Certainly, any responsible AI developer will bake into their AI cake clear objectives that are for the good of humanity, not to its detriment.

In one popular movie series (which I enjoyed very much), a military defense network takes over and launches nukes to get rid of humanity. Yet a “network” is actually a collection of hundreds or thousands of machines, each with different goals, programming, and firewalls. The idea that these would all join together in one unified objective of destroying humanity, before anyone – or any other AI – could stop them, is farfetched.

Think of it like a friends network. Even if you hatch some kind of evil scheme to take over the world, will all your friends automatically agree and join you? It’s unlikely. This is exactly why I’m not a big conspiracy theorist: any sufficiently powerful conspiracy would have to make sure that everyone agrees and doesn’t sabotage its goals. In the real world, that kind of consensus is extraordinarily hard to achieve – especially in the Internet age.

While nothing is truly impossible, the scenario in which AI actually takes over the world is very remote.

Now, there are a few hidden lessons in this for any person wanting to live a better life. They are:

  1. Operating without a clear goal or objective in life is a recipe for “failure.” Many people give up on their big plans and ambitions at some point in life, and just start living reactively – day to day – with no real purpose. We all must have purpose in order to thrive or to have any impact.
  2. Many people get so frustrated that there are other people in the world who have different opinions and perspectives. This post was written during an election season in the USA, when many people are decrying the “other side” and how awful they are. Yet it is exactly this diversity of opinion that prevents the world from being taken over by men like Hitler. All the diversity makes the world a truly glorious place. If you truly embrace the diversity of thought and opinion, it makes life a lot more pleasant than continually fighting the “other side” to “prove” who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s okay if you’re into that kind of thing, but it sure does waste a lot of time and energy – and it never really improves the world. The people who improve the world are those who follow point #1 above and accomplish great things.

Is it your time to thrive? Get a clear purpose and embrace the diversity of opinion that exists – even those who might seem to stand in your way.

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