Dear Dr. Boli: What should I do to prepare for the coming artificial-intelligence apokalypse? I have already started spelling words of Greek derivation with a K instead of a C, but I was wondering whether there was anything else I should be doing. And what about zombies?—Sincerely, Dr. Ada Lovelace Turing Berners-Lee Smith, Professor of Computer Science, Duck Hollow University.
Dear Madam: Dr. Boli believes far too much of our limited capacity for worry is wasted on the imaginary threat of artificial intelligence. Long before artificial intelligence becomes a threat, the world will already have been conquered by artificial stupidity.
How many times have you been told that the computer made an error, and all we can do is adapt? The price on the sign is that, but the price in the computer is this. The office is supposed to be open now, but the computer won’t be up until 9:30. The gasoline is supposed to flow downhill through this pipe, but the computer won’t open the valve. The computer has your name spelled wrong, so if you could just sign it this way…
All these things happen because the computer is a convenient excuse for laziness. I would do my job, says the lazy clerk, but the computer won’t let me. I could correct your name in the file, but I don’t have access to that function. I could open the office now, but then I might have to write things down on paper and enter them in the database later. I could sell it to you at this price, but then I’d have to call a manager, or worse yet take personal responsibility for a decision.
The comforting lie that the computer is in control and there is nothing we can do about it spares a lot of people a lot of work. But the lie has consequences. We have seen recently in other fields that, if you repeat a lie for a generation, you raise a generation that believes the lie. The generation that remembers when computers were new is passing. The generation that has never heard anything but the lie is taking control. That generation actually believes that the computer is God.
Human beings are still in control of what the computers are allowed to do. But we are institutionalizing our laziness so thoroughly that the next generation will be unable to break out of it.
Therefore, Professor, you should be preparing for the artificial-stupidity apocalypse. Buy yourself a manual typewriter and a bicycle, and learn to chop wood and save seeds, and you should be fine.
As for the zombies, they are traditionally said to feed on brains, so Dr. Boli confidently predicts that they will all quickly starve to death and leave us nothing more to worry about from that quarter.