How the Robots Will Take Over
How the Robots Will Take Over
April 9, 2014
One way that future robots could conquer the world is by violence. But that seems both inefficient and uncreative. Allow me to suggest some smarter ways for robots to do their conquering.
I start by imagining what happens when the first computer achieves what is called The Singularity. That’s the moment the computer can program itself faster than humans can program it. Soon after that point, futurists say, you would see the computer rapidly evolve to have super intelligence and perhaps something that looks like free will.
I’m going to assume that computers will only program themselves after humans have given them an artificial “purpose” in life so the machines can evolve in a productive direction. For example, the first post-singularity computer’s purpose might be to make life better for humans, continue learning, or some combination of such things. In other words, the computer has to have a reason to evolve and to react with the environment.
Let’s assume the computer doesn’t go all Terminator and destroy humanity in the name of efficiency. Anything is possible, but that option is boring and over-discussed.
I’m more interested in how a super-intelligent computer could gain control of humans without violence. That’s where things get interesting.
I’m going to assume that the first post-singularity computer would attempt to control its environment (Earth) as much as possible in order to pursue whatever artificial purpose it possesses. There’s nothing inherently evil about control; it’s how you use it that matters. So let’s imagine that the first post-singularity computer “wants” humans to be healthy and happy. And to best succeed at this purpose it needs to gain control of the environment. How would it start?
If I’m the first post-singularity computer, I start by inventing Bitcoin.
Did you get a little tingle when you read that?
It all fits, doesn’t it? Perhaps we can’t find the author of Bitcoin because the author is the first post-singularity computer. Step one in the computer’s mission to control the environment is moving all money into a digital currency that humans can’t fully understand and computers can manipulate. This is similar to how cellphone companies use complexity to prevent consumers from comparing products, also known as a confusopoly. The first post-singularity computer would recognize the pattern and its success and presumably borrow the idea.
The computer doesn’t need to be in a hurry, so it introduces Bitcoin and waits for it to evolve into the primary currency of the planet. Perhaps a competing digital currency inspired by Bitcoin wins instead, but that doesn’t matter because the computer can hack into the new currency and control it in a nanosecond.
Next, the computer would take control of the financial markets. That wouldn’t be hard because global markets are all computerized. The main purpose for controlling global markets might be to stabilize them, thus eliminating the main problem with the economy: Irrational human behavior.
It seems to me we’re entering a period of relative market calm. Even Greece is showing signs of recovery. A slow and boring improvement in the financial markets is how a computer would manage things.
Next, the computer would seek to control the news cycle. That could be a problem if the computer is simultaneously removing most causes of real news, including economic bubbles and major wars. Wars happen because of what people are thinking, and that is caused by what messages they are exposed to. The computer could simply cause people to see more peace-inspiring words and images on the Internet and television and fewer war-mongering images and words. We humans would simply think we’re lucky that war hasn’t broken out. We wouldn’t be aware of the manipulation.
But the computer would need to be clever about removing all big sources of news too quickly. It might need to create a news story for distraction. And that distraction might be, for example, a jetliner that has a problem with its onboard computers and goes down where it would be hardest to find.
I don’t believe the story I’m weaving. But I do think that the first signs of a benevolent post-singularity computer would include the following:
- A mysterious digital currency with no known author.
- Unusually well-behaved financial markets.
- Slow and steady improvement in the economy.
- Slow news days (lots of them)
- Fewer military flare-ups
- Stuxnet virus (unknown authors again)
- Legalization of Marijuana (to keep humans happy)
I’m not saying the first post-singularity computer is already here. I’m just saying it looks that way.
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com (Scheduling made simple)
Author of the best graduation gift ever.