When people see machines that respond like humans, or computers that perform feats of strategy and cognition mimicking human ingenuity, they sometimes joke about a future in which humanity will need to accept robot overlords.
But buried in the joke is a seed of unease. Science-fiction writing and popular movies, from “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) to “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015), have speculated about artificial intelligence (AI) that exceeds the expectations of its creators and escapes their control, eventually outcompeting and enslaving humans or targeting them for extinction.
Conflict between humans and AI is front and center in AMC’s sci-fi series “Humans,” which returned for its third season on Tuesday (June 5). In the new episodes, conscious synthetic humans face hostile people who treat them with suspicion, fear and hatred. Violence roils as Synths find themselves fighting for not only basic rights but their very survival, against those who view them as less than human and as a dangerous threat. [Can Machines Be Creative? Meet 9 AI ‘Artists’]
Even in the real world, not everyone is ready to welcome AI with open arms. In recent years, as computer scientists have pushed the boundaries of what AI can accomplish, leading figures in technology and science have warned about the looming dangers that artificial intelligence may pose to humanity, even suggesting that AI capabilities could doom the human race.
But why are people so unnerved by the idea of AI?
An “existential threat”
Elon Musk is one of the prominent voices that has raised red flags about AI. In July 2017, Musk told attendees at a meeting of the National Governors Association, “I have exposure to the very cutting-edge AI, and I think people should be really concerned about it.”