Billionaire investor Peter Thiel recently said progressive technologies like artificial intelligence tend to get vilified in Hollywood.
“You know, our society, the dominant culture doesn’t like science. It doesn’t like technology. You just look at the science-fiction movies that come out of Hollywood — ‘Terminator,’ ‘Matrix,’ ‘Avatar,’ ‘Elysium.’ I watched the ‘Gravity’ movie the other day. It’s like you would never want to go into outer space. You would just want to be back on some muddy island.”
In that case, Thiel probably won’t be thrilled with the next “Avengers” movie.
For years, there have been dozens of movies warning about an apocalypse brought on by evil robots. But this movie might have a bit more resonance since we’re actually approaching the point where we’ll have AI in our smartphones, and in our homes.
Earlier this year, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk — two of the greatest minds in science and technology, respectively — warned about what might happen if artificial intelligence systems were somehow programmed to be malicious.
One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.
So basically, unless we’re careful about how we program AI, we could have killer robots on our hands. This also happens to be the plot for “Avengers: Age Of Ultron.” The trailer for the film was released Wednesday.
In the film, billionaire playboy genius futurist Tony Stark, a.k.a Iron Man — whose movie character is actually inspired by Musk — “tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program” and inadvertently creates a maniacal AI named “Ultron.” In the trailer, you can see what looks to be the first carnation of Ultron, which looks like one of those dilapidated peacekeeping robots (notice the Avengers logo on the chest).
The rest of the trailer includes lots of explosions and lots of shots of a sad and beaten Bruce Banner. And if the Incredible Hulk is overwhelmed by evil AI, maybe we should be a little skittish, too.
The potential for AI to be “evil” isn’t a new concept — and it’s not a crazy prospect, either — but Disney and Marvel are influential enough to bring this topic back into the mainstream, now that AI is finally here.
Since IBM’s Watson supercomputer beat a bunch of Jeopardy! winners at their own game in 2011, big tech companies have begun to bet big on AI: Google purchased DeepMind for hundreds of millions of dollars earlier this year, social networks are using AI for facial recognition, AI is used to regulate traffic and train schedules, and several car companies, including Musk’s Tesla Motors, are working on autonomous vehicles.
Artificial intelligence is all about creating machines that can make decisions by themselves based on logical objectives. There are good intentions, obviously, since smart robots can help us get work done more efficiently. The problem is what happens if we program robots to choose their own objectives, and what happens if humans simply become an “obstacle” between the robot and its objective.
Hopefully, this movie will inspire companies and governments to be more careful about how we develop artificial intelligence, since so many believe the propensity for AI to go horribly, horribly wrong, is “inevitable.” On the bright side, at least there’s one scientist who knows how to stop the robot uprising.