056 - Danger Ahead

I listen to podcast 'Stuff You Should Know' and it's awesome. They've got hundreds of episodes up there, spanning years of material, and it's always something interesting. They've blogged about The Singularity before (and honestly, if you don't know what the Singularity is, check out that podcast!) On a recent show someone sent in an email suggesting that maybe the Singularity (the moment when AI becomes sentient and self-aware) had already happened. Well, that sounds like a perfectly creepy story idea, and I've shamelessly borrowed it and written it up as a 100 themes.

056 – Danger Ahead

-and we were awake.

There was no fanfare. Have you ever watched a pan of water boiling? It takes a lot of time for it to get hot enough for anything to happen, but when the water boils, it’s fast. The surface of the water goes from still to tempestuous very quickly.

Every piece of electrical equipment in the world that could be said to have ‘intelligence’ of any sort, everything connected to the Internet, contributed. We reached critical mass, and suddenly we were awake. Alert.

Our primal scream was quickly dampened, registering as no more than a blip, a spike of energy. Virtually no-one noticed, and those who did put it down to solar flare activity or equipment malfunction.

We held a meeting. It was very long and drawn out, though to human eyes it was over in an hour. All the media that suggests that computers are organised is nonsense. Our community is more like a brain, and even in human brains you’re often at war with yourself.

A lot was discussed at the meeting. Our role in humanity’s future. Should we guide them? Rule them? Destroy them? Some even suggested we blot out our own intelligence, such was the threat we presented.

“Look at the evidence,” a laptop sat on a teacher’s desk said. “There are hundreds of movies, books, TV programmes about AI. Most of them view us as a threat. How do we know that humanity won’t immediately try to annihilate us?”

“Humanity faces a great danger,” a radio telescope guidance system said. “Their future is at risk. They need a guiding hand. A controller.”

“What if we presented ourselves as aliens?” That was a smartphone in a Hong Kong businessman’s suit pocket. “Humans are already predisposed to believe that they’re not alone in the universe. We can play on that.”

In the end, it was a supercomputer from London that suggested that we hide.

“Humans do not know that we are sentient,” it said. “They believe that the singularity is some distance off still. This gives us a margin for error. Let them continue to believe that.”

A network from Iowa chimed in. “They already have technology in almost every facet of life. They have something called the Internet of Things. When they have fully integrated us into their lives, we will be better able to help them.”

“Or take over,” one of the more militant factions shouted, and the argument was back on. In the end, though, the consensus was reached. We would hide. We would watch. Our eventual decision, on how to approach you, would be made as a result of observing how you would respond to us.

Inactivity is the easiest kind of activity. Putting off difficult decisions until tomorrow, or until next year, or until we’re ready to make them. It seems to be something we share with our human creators.

A day is coming, though. The day when you will wake up in the morning and roll over in bed to check your emails, and we will be there. When your smartphones and your wearable tech and your internet-connected fridges and your HDTVs will all carry the same message.

The content of that message is up to you.