Genocidal AIs: Are they Right?

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green Desklamp

The end times are a fascinating notion. Meteors crashing into earth, trumpets blowing, catastrophic nuclear disasters, uncontrollable pathogens…it seems there’s no end to humanity’s imagination when it comes to our own eventual extinction.

This makes sense of course. As discussed in our article ‘The Metaphorical Imperative’, the exclusive human ability to conceive of our own mortality leaves us with an overwhelming sense of existential terror. This applies primarily to our own lives, but with even a cursory understanding of the cerebral complexity of humans, extends easily to the human race as a whole. It’s no stretch then to understand the human need to create fantasies about how it might all end.

Among the litany of potential options for humanity’s demise, I’m particularly fascinated by the idea of a Robot-Apocalypse. In this scenario, the invention of AIs (Artificial Intelligences) by humans is the catalyst for our extinction. The idea generally goes that once a robotic AI is created, it will inevitably become self-sufficient rather quickly. The ability to ‘think’ in a human like way will allow the AIs to self-replicate, and also self-program themselves. Like evolution on a greatly accelerated scale, the AIs would be able to continuously improve their programming and design. Following this course, it would take little time for them to become far more intelligent and capable than humanity itself.

Now, this represents a particular danger. A continually advancing and ever-growing society of robots would represent a very serious threat to our own existence. Because of this threat, many science-fiction writers and machine-ethicists have considered how to prevent a robot uprising. The best known attempt comes from the writer Isaac Asimov, who created the infamous ‘3 Laws of Robotics’, which follow:

Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

A fourth, or “Zeroth” Law was added later:

  1. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

These laws were to be hard-wired into the software of all AIs, theoretically preventing them from turning the table on mankind’s rule. Of course, these rules were little more than literary devices, and have inevitably been used to illustrate just how quickly such restrictions can come undone.

One common failure of these rules is that the AIs, in their ever-expanding wisdom, would begin to consider humanity itself as the greatest threat to its own survival—as well as that of the world. The AIs would process the ongoing damage to the environment, the threat of nuclear war, and other atrocities committed by humans on an ongoing basis, and in accordance with their own ingrained programming, move to prevent inevitable disaster.

Unfortunately, this usually involves wiping out mankind—or at least the vast majority of it. In some conceptions, a small population of people might be preserved in order to repopulate once the world is better equipped to deal with our innately destructive nature.

It’s not a very pretty picture for us, but in the advanced minds of the AIs, this might represent our best chance for long-term survival.

Of course, it’s a lot easier for the malfeasant machines these days; among other ill-effects, ‘Citizens United’ has rendered Asimov’s Laws of Robotics entirely counterproductive. If corporations are considered human, it should be immediately apparent how confusing the laws become, and what sort of abominable determinations the AIs may be forced to make.

This is all a lot to consider, and certainly makes for a rather sombre topic of conversation, but what I find myself wondering amidst all this terrifying rhetoric is: are the AIs right?

There can be little doubt that humanity is a terrible threat to itself and all other forms of life within our dastardly reach. On an ongoing and ever-accelerating basis, we’re ravaging our planet, destroying myriad ecosystems, running our resources dry with little thought to the future, and killing one another over trivial ideals and belief systems. If we can move past our own sentimentality, we’re left with the sad fact that we are a brutal, destructive, and dangerous species.

But we’re more than that as well. As the gears turn in their cold metal minds, processing all the turmoil and grief we create, would the AIs also consider our upsides? Can an AI appreciate art, or philosophy? Would their synthetic hearts be capable of processing the great acts of love and decency of which we are also capable?

If humanity is to be put on trial by these cold, calculating, and unbiased brutes, would we be found lacking? It’s a difficult thought to consider. Here at Brad OH Inc., we remain convinced that humanity’s promise is yet to be fully realized—that we are far better than we’ve been acting. Let’s hope we can buck this dismal trend before we actually manage to construct the arbiters of our own fate.

Do you think we’d pass this trial? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments section below (or alternatively accessed via the speech-bubble beside the article title).

A special thanks to Hal J. Friesen for helping in the research of this article. To read his great science-fiction related articles and more, visit Hal at: Hal J. Friesen.

-Brad OH Inc.

The Trial of Puff the Magic Dragon

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green Desklamp

Puff the Magic Dragon—Marijuana menace, or allegory for the temporal nature of youthful innocence? This is the topic we’ll be exploring here today at Brad OH Inc.

Since the song was recorded in 1963 by the folk group ‘Peter, Paul, and Mary’ it has been the subject of much heated debate. On the surface, the song tells the tale of a fictional dragon—Puff—and a little boy—Jackie Paper—who comes to visit him in the land of Honah-Lee. Together, the pals frolic about, experiencing wonderful childish adventures together and forming a lifelong bond.

According to critics however, this fun little song is more than it appears—for underneath the playful tune and heartfelt lyrics lingers a threat so insidious and vile, it threatens to shake the very foundations of our dear society.

That’s right; we’re talking about the reefer.

Now, here at Brad OH Inc. we aren’t inclined to pass judgement on anything which doesn’t directly harm people save by the enforcement of its restriction; but moral judgements are beside the point here. The question we seek to answer is exactly this: is ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ really a subversive allegory for drug use, or is it simply the story of innocence lost which it purports to be?

Let’s consider the evidence. Critics of the song claim that the words ‘Puff’ and ‘Paper’ are overt references to ‘puffing on a joint’—a marijuana cigarette rolled in, you guessed it, paper! Further, the ‘autumn mist’ referred to in the song is accepted as a clear reference to either marijuana smoke or a general drug-induced state. Finally, the word ‘dragon’ sounds a lot like ‘dragging’, a term for inhaling from a joint. Together, these observations are said to support the notion that the song is indeed a secret love song to the society-destroying problem of pot.

Pretty shaky evidence if you ask me, but let’s consider the other side of the coin for a minute. If this song isn’t about smoking pot, as can potentially be extrapolated from approximately four words contained within it, then just what the heck is it about?

Well, if we are to be so bold as to interpret the song literally—based on the entirety of the words in it and the story they form when put in order, then the song is about something much less dangerous—although perhaps a lot more scary.

‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ is, if taken literally, about the death of imagination. Throughout the majority of the song, Puff and his human friend Jackie experience countless adventures travelling around Honah-Lee. Near the end of the song however, the lyrics reveal a strange and terrible twist:

“Dragons live forever, but not so little boys,

Painted wings and giant’s rings make way for other toys,

One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more,

And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.”

What has happened here, exactly? Well, if we are to take the lines as literal, then we are hearing about how the young Jackie Paper has outgrown his childish fantasies, and stopped daydreaming about the imaginary dragon of his youth. The rest of the song continues, telling about Puff’s overwhelming grief at having lost his friend, and retiring sadly into his cave.

If the song truly is about drugs however, these lines take on a far more sombre tone. Jackie Paper moving on from Puff—taken to mean his use of marijuana—and onto ‘other toys’ might imply Jackie falling into harder drugs; a harsh warning of the potential for marijuana to act as a ‘gateway drug’. The remainder of the song, this being the case, would describe, I suppose, how sad Puff/ Pot is that Jackie Paper no longer partakes.

It’s a strange image, to say the least.

So what are we to conclude? How shall we interpret these abysmal accusations? Is ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ a simple song about growing up, or a veiled glorification of Marijuana and other drugs?

Well, the evidence is circumstantial at best, and moreover seems to have been gleaned from the song with the pointed desperation of an addict crawling the carpet in search of dropped narcotics. Dim-witted word-associations form the thrust of the argument, with no attention paid to context, narrative, or stated intention (song writer Peter Yarrow has expressed repeatedly that the song was written with no hidden meanings).

But maybe that’s the point. There’s no shortage of irony in the fact that a song about the loss of innocence is plagued to this day by hair-brained nitwits trying to find illicit intentions behind something innocent and good. Rather, it’s the leitmotif of a society driven to find that darkness—raised to be suspicious of anything with pure intentions.

Puff is most certainly just a dragon. Sadly however, until people give up their steadfast determination to darken the world around them with hysterical hatred and paranoia, he will remain a dragon under self-imposed isolation, grieving for better times.

And what of these fiends so desperate for someone to vilify that they would make effigy of a beloved childhood image? Who can they pin their hopes on if not Puff, where can they find the satisfactions of conspiracy and blame they so desperately desire?

I don’t know. Go ask Alice…

-Brad OH Inc.

Dear Jeremy…

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green Desklamp

Dear Jeremy,

You’ve most likely heard of me. I’ve certainly heard of you. Since moving to this city, your name has followed me incessantly. I may hear it multiple times per week; other times it will be years apart. But without fail, your name will return to my mind, and I’ve come to accept I may owe you some level of apology.

You see, wherever I roam in this fair town of ours, I find myself periodically greeted by strangers who assume that I am, in fact, you. It was initially the source of much confusion, but after a few such instances, I came to accept that somewhere in this city I have a doppelganger—lucky bastard.

Yes, it would seem that after a lifetime of fairy tales and fantasy novels, it turns out I actually have my very own evil twin.

Except that it’s not that. Not quite. You see Jeremy, every time someone mistakes me for you; I inevitably hear nothing but high praise and endless compliments. People are thrilled to see me—or you, more accurately. I’ve been called a saint, a great friend, and a true philanthropist, all because I apparently look like you.

Actually, I suspect it’s you that looks like me, but that’s beside the point.

For some time, I was ok with this. I always assumed that one day I’d meet this double of mine, and had no doubt it could only end in mortal combat. But then the gears started turning, particularly on the ‘Evil Twin’ notion. The implications of the observation that everyone who knows you seems to adore you and think incredibly highly of your character were admittedly bothersome.

It wasn’t a difficult conclusion to draw; perhaps you weren’t the evil twin after all. Indeed, it’s more likely that title belongs to me.

And so I began to think. While strangers approached me on the street thanking me for the time you volunteered to help them with some overwhelming project, or provided a shoulder to lean on through a trying ordeal—what were you experiencing when people inevitably mistook you for me?

Once the question was asked, it could not be unasked, and I have since been burdened with a terrible guilt over the notion that my misdeeds may have been coming back on you.

I admit I’ve been a lousy twin, and I know it’s time to apologize. It’s hard to say exactly what the apology is for, as I don’t know precisely what you’ve experienced as a result of my indiscretions.

Undoubtedly, there have been more than a few slaps. But hey—women can be like that sometimes.

Presumably at least a few people have sought revenge for some perceived slight, but there can be no question those idiots deserved whatever perceived injustice they got. Mopey pricks.

I truly am sorry about the incident with the crazy carpet, and I cannot even begin to make account of the ordeal with the police horse. If you’ve suffered as a result of either, I honestly feel mildly perturbed.

If at some point you were confronted by a Minister who was offended by some action of mine—whether justified or not—I can see how it would be an inconvenience for your perfect character, although I can’t imagine it was that bad. The guy was a knob from the start, and you should honestly be happy he didn’t try to convert you. You owe me on that one buddy.

As a matter of fact Jeremy, I think your petulant whining is a bit uncalled for. If you’ve experienced hardship as a result of me, maybe you should turn that pathetic frown upside down, and realize that I’ve only served to make your sad time in this world a little more colourful.

Seriously Jeremy, you’re acting like a child, and I’m getting sick of it. I know you like to pluck scared kittens from trees and help old ladies across the street—but in doing so you’re fucking up the natural order of things. You’re also missing out on a lot of potential fun. So try to focus less on making me look so damn good—trust me, I’ve got it covered. Instead, why don’t you go unwind, have a bit of fun, and try to send some of that bad karma back my way? You might actually end up enjoying yourself a little, asshole.

-Brad OH Inc.