Benjamin Parris

When the ticket machine doesn’t accept your change, when the traffic lights go red so you miss the breakfast menu at McDonald’s, when the claw machine at the arcade refuses to give up that iPhone box, so you try to climb inside and get stuck for half a day, it’s very easy thing to say that machines are evil, even without them having our levels of intelligence. But do machines merit this hatred? Although it’s certain that all our alarm clocks deliberately go off when we least want them to, when artificial intelligence is fully realised, is that such a bad thing? Sentient machines could make our lives so much easier, and there’s always the chance that the toasters won’t try to enslave us all.

Most of our fear of machines is based on the fact that they are so much better than us in many ways. They can be quicker, smarter, and stronger than us, and can make video games impossibly hard (the reader can decide which one of those is the most threatening to human civilisation). More machines are putting people out of jobs each year, in many cases simply because they are better at doing them. We would be no match for artificially intelligent robots; like parents trying to thwart wall-drawing toddlers, we cannot hold off their advances indefinitely. One is bound to make a mess, and it’s only a matter of time before we leave the destructive felt-tip pens of life undefended.

This fearmongering may not be completely necessary, though, especially when we consider what machines have helped us to achieve so far. Machines have helped us make huge leaps in the development of human society, such as in healthcare, security, and playing golf on the moon. Albeit all these accomplishments involve machines being in complete subservience to us, but if we were to treat intelligent machines with the respect any sentient being deserved, who says, except pretty much every sci-fi film ever made, that we wouldn’t be ok? Can we universally condemn human-machine relations without any experience whatsoever? Perhaps, more importantly, should we?

With this respect for machines in mind, one can’t help but think that there is more to this fear of machines than just survival instinct. May we just be a tiny bit jealous of any being/construct that can mirror our level of intellect and self-awareness? Of anything that can come close to possessing the benefits of being human (having reason, the capacity to learn, and being able to pick one’s nose with one’s tongue) without having to be hindered by the weaknesses that we otherwise all share (i.e. our tendency to die). A self-aware, fully cognitive machine could endlessly rebuild itself after all, and could instigate its own artificial evolution at whatever pace it wished. Given our history, would we willingly make something potentially immortal, other than ourselves?

Although it would be great to have a microwave that could hold decent conversation whilst I wait for my ready meal, the concept of artificial intelligence deserves much more contemplation that deciding how long I can wait for food without getting bored. We shouldn’t necessarily be scared of them, but sentient machines, potentially with emotions, would revolutionise our perception of what it means to be human, and shouldn’t be trivialised. However fun it may be to do so.