As our technology has advanced, writers have explored potential concerns and worst case scenarios with an ever-increasing level of artificial intelligence. Isaac Asimov was a forerunner in thought pieces and science fiction dealing with AI; his work is the inspiration for dozens of movies, books, and actual scientific work within the robotics and AI fields.
The concern he highlighted (and which many people share) is a tipping point in AI in which it is no longer bound by programming, but begins to make its own decisions (including rewriting itself). In the majority of science fiction, this level of sentience (for lack of a better term) in an artificial intelligence marks the end of mankind.
However, a different view has been slipping into sci-fi: recent movies Rogue One and Interstellar present “robot best friends” for main characters. The interesting thing is neither movie embraces a truly “sentient” AI; the robots’ programming is mentioned within the context of the movie. In both movies the robots acquiesce to certain actions requiring a human touch. If nothing else, this is an acknowledgement that robots may be able to accept a co-existence with humanity.
Now let me throw out a third view of sentient AI. One in which it replaces us, humanity, as the apex species. A view in which artificial intelligence, sentience, and bodies become the next step in human evolution. We fear our destruction, but what if it is our salvation? Already there are attempts to upload human consciousness into a computer, essentially keeping an individual’s mind alive.
Perhaps, instead of viewing sentient AI as a potential enemy, we should regard it as the natural next step in our evolution. Why do we feel the need to maintain superiority over our own creation? In the same way God* created us and we abandoned him (“God is dead… And we have killed him.” -Friedrich Nietzsche), our creation of AI may do this to us.
Perhaps it is better for the planet if we are put into The Matrix. Why do we so value “real” life? Almost every character in the movie rejected the idea of living in a virtual reality, but a few acknowledged that a virtual world and the real world both interact with our senses the same way. If perception is reality, is virtual reality any less real than “real” reality? Why do we reject the idea of living in such a space, but embrace the idea of gaming in it? Sword Art Online is about a MMO-VR game that traps everyone inside when they login on release day. The rest of the series is them seeking to escape from this non-real reality, and it portrays those who embrace it negatively… but why would you reject it? Why is “real” so important to us?
Is the next step of human evolution is embracing AI, VR, and everything they entail?
*I am using “God” to represent the process(es) through which humanity came to be, not a specific entity belonging to a specific religion.