The rise of the machines (...or not)

AI robotic species

“The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.”

A few days ago Terminator: Dark Fate was released in cinemas and I am a big fan of the Terminator franchise! It’s one of the most popular movies that features machines fighting humans (2001: A Space Odyssey started this with HAL 9000 and The Matrix is another great franchise too). The main concept is that Artificial Intelligence confronts humanity, with self-awareness being the turning point for “the rise of the machines” and their prevail over humans to rule the world!

AI will change the world definitely and indefinitely. The how’s and what’s are impossible to be foretold, at least this is what I think. So what I do, is to twist it around, playing with myself a mental game that goes by posing one simple question: ‘’What will NOT happen in the new AI world?’’ Well, here’s what I think, to my own self’s great disappointment, as a sci-fi fan: No war will happen, no matter how smart and self-aware any Skynet will become…

But let’s first get back to the plot: Skynet gained self-awareness after it had spread into millions of computer servers all across the world; realizing the extent of its abilities, its creators tried to deactivate it. In the interest of self-preservation, Skynet concluded to exterminate the human race.

In my opinion, there are 2 plot holes here:

1. The turning point that a machine becomes hostile is when it gets super smart and gains self-awareness. 

If the machines had the tension to become hostile, why waiting to become self-aware first? Being aggressive has nothing to do with intelligence and hippos are the perfect example: they are not considered an intelligent animal and they are not self-aware like dogs, elephants or dolphins. However, it’s one of the deadliest animals on earth and only a fool would get close to them. In other words, if Skynet was hostile and aggressive, we would have received signs earlier and not when it was smart and powerful enough to destroy the world.


2. A super-smart machine will try to defend itself or its “AI species”.

The misconception here is that when a machine becomes smart will pursue its self-preservation. This is a common mistake because we are biased by DNA-based life. Let me show this through the “Why Q&A” game:

  • Q: Why would a machine want to kill humans? A: To prevail over them.
  • Q: Why would a machine want to prevail over humans? A: For self-preservation, if it feels threatened.
  • Q: Why would a machine want to protect itself? A: because otherwise, it will cease to exist.
  • Q: Why would a machine, no matter how smart it is, even bothers if it ceases to exist? A: …

So, why is this that we take for granted that every self-aware organism would care about living or dying? Do we ourselves really mind if some of the cells in our body die? In fact, 200 billion of them die every day and we don’t care. But let’s examine more complex organisms that don’t care much about dying too: worker bees are always ready to sacrifice their lives for their queen by stinging the enemy and then dying. Hint: worker bees are sterile and the queen bee is the only reproductive female in a colony.

Why then all mammals, humans included, don’t want to die? Our Darwinian nature is responsible for all our instincts and the willingness to stay alive is one of them. As Richard Dawkins said, “life is like a river of genes flowing through a geological time where organisms are mere temporary bodies”. The actual purpose of our lives is to keep this great “river of life” flowing by protecting ourselves and our children. The mere fact that we transfer DNA to the next generations through evolution and natural selection has sculpted our instincts, in a slow process from generation to generation, within billions of years.

And this is how evolution does the job: 

  • All living organisms on earth make descendants with DNA transfer and copy of genes
  • Sometimes copies are not perfect and gene mutations occur
  • If these mutations enhance the ability to survive, they prevail
  • A set of genes that prevailed through this process are those that push organisms to avoid dying!

Let’s see how the opposite example and to suppose that a gene mutation happens and an organism does not have a strong survival instinct. Most probably it will not survive to a reproduction age to pass this gene to future generations and therefore the mutation will not prevail. So, this is why DNA-based organisms don’t enjoy dying that much: because they live to reproduce themselves by transferring DNA and genes to future generations.

Let’s go back to these dreaded machines now. Will machines build new machines by copying genetic code (like DNA and genes) to them? The answer is no, and therefore will lack the Darwinian instincts that we do, not wanting to die included. So, any organic or digital organism, that does not reproduce through DNA (or any code) transfer to offsprings, will not evolve to protect its life from dying! Machines are not that eager to reproduce themselves or to protect their existence and this is a sad truth.

It’s always nice to watch these films and I personally won’t stop watching and getting thrilled with their dystopic interpretation of human evolution. AI Apocalypse is a really great blockbuster material and it’s good if it keeps surviving in the confined places of ”a theater near you”. That is, as long as we keep doing a good job in making AI our valuable assistance to make ourselves better. Yes, AI is a technological revolution, a game-changer that could pose threats together with opportunities and we all should develop the right strategies to mitigate these risks.