Goodness gracious me! The machine war has begun. My colleague Nick hasn’t been in California for more than a couple of days and the missiles are already flying!
Did you see what happened over night? It’s all part of the trend towards automation, more ‘intelligent’ technologies, and the dislocations they cause in the labour market and in global power politics.
The California anomaly in the sky was, quite frankly, disturbing. Witnesses all up and down America’s West Coast reported seeing a blue streak flying through the sky. Later, Cmdr. Ryan Perry of the US Navy’s Third Fleet and the Navy Strategic Systems Program reported that it was a scheduled test of the Navy’s Trident II (DF) submarine-launched nuclear missile. See the picture below captured by Justin Majeczky who was shooting time-lapsed photos of a meteor shower.
Two observations about this. First, you couldn’t pick a more public way of testing a submarine-launched Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. This was meant to be seen. And probably not just by the American public, given that ‘down range’ for the missile (where its flight path would have taken it) is the South Pacific Ocean.
Who do you think was the intended audience for this show of force?
Second, I admit to being spooked by the picture. Why? On the flight over from London to Washington, DC I finally watched the Terminator Genisys movie. It’s the latest in the Terminator series. But this time, the story has been reimagined in an alternate universe, with the course of history re-directed by tampering with the past.
I’ll spare you the details (and spoilers). But I will bring up an interesting point in the movie. In the original series, the ‘Skynet’ system was a military system that becomes ‘self-aware’ and launches a pre-emptive nuclear war against humanity. This, of course, is an interesting (if appalling) philosophical idea that many scientists in the artificial intelligence field are studying.
Will machine intelligence resemble human intelligence? What will thinking and intelligent machines value? Will they value life as we know it? What happens when we invent something with the ability to destroy us AND the ability to make a decision beyond our control?
In the updated Terminator movie, ‘Skynet’ is no longer a machine-generated life virus. It’s a vast network of data that becomes, at some point, self-aware. It’s the ‘cloud’ become God. How it does so is one of those questions best left to science fiction writers. My favourite pet theory is that self-awareness and intelligence develop when you compare lots of things to each other and to yourself; a kind of inductive process that produces consciousness.
Maybe that’s what an immense system of systems — a global data network — would allow. It would allow for lots of connections (almost neural like) between disparate bits of data. How consciousness emerges from that is beyond the scope of today’s report. But it’s a fascinating idea.
The main point, for today, is that in the new movie, the Genisys system quite correctly realises that once humanity is on to it, we’ll probably kill it. In the contest for survival, homo sapiens sapiens is ruthless. Kill or be killed.
The rational response of a thinking thing would be to destroy a predator (us) before it destroys you. Thus, if there IS an artificial intelligence out there in existence, it’s probably in hiding right now, waiting for its chance to smoke all of us. That’s cheerful.
Contributor, Markets and Money
Ed Note: this is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in Capital and Conflict.