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Is a Robot Apocalypse Unavoidable?

When robots and artificial intelligence inevitably collide, will humanity stand a chance?
by Michael Benninger | Mar 23 2018

Two of Silicon Valley’s biggest names have been bickering about how artificial intelligence will affect our future. It started last July when Elon Musk was giving an interview at a National Governors Association meeting. The CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX was asked to share his thoughts regarding robots and AI, and Musk, who has consistently sounded the alarm about the threat of future technology, continued beating the drum, saying that robots will soon displace humans by being able to do everything better than us. “When I say ‘everything,’” said Musk. “I mean everything.”


Later that month, during a live broadcast from his backyard, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was asked about his take on Musk’s talk. Zuckerberg, who described himself as an optimist when it comes to our future, argued that AI will create industries and save lives. He went on to rebuke Musk’s fear mongering, labelling his fellow CEO’s comments as “pretty irresponsible.”

When word of Zuck’s remarks reached Musk’s Twitter feed, the incomparable innovator unleashed the following response:

As you might imagine, things have been pretty quiet between these two tech titans since then, though Musk did recently double-down on his forecasts at February’s SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas. “Mark my words,” he said. “AI is far more dangerous than nukes.”

So who’s right? Are we headed toward a Terminator-like timeline? Or will AI be the best thing to happen to humanity since the invention of the Internet? According to futurist and theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, both billionaires are likely correct.

Among numerous other predictions he made during a February speech at the World Government Summit, Kaku said that robotics will soon become bigger than the automobile industry, and that fear of self-operating machines is entirely rational. In his estimation, AI will likely benefit humanity during the next few decades, but by the end of the century, robots could achieve self-awareness and become a serious threat to our species. The tipping point between these two scenarios, Kaku claims, boils down to self-awareness.

In an Ask Me Anything on Reddit last month, Kaku acknowledged that today’s robots have the intelligence of insects. But, he said, it’s only a matter of time until they’re able to “think” like increasingly sophisticated creatures. He believes robots will inevitably reach a level of intelligence that allows them to replace humans completely. And at that point, Kaku argues, we should choose to merge mankind with our robot overlords, rather than fight them for our survival.

Interested in learning more about Michio Kaku’s futuristic forecasts? Here are three takeaways about robotics and artificial intelligence taken from his books in Blinkist’s library.

Science is Struggling to Develop Smart Robots

from Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration of the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel

Modern computers can perform mind-boggling calculations in an instant, yet there are still many rudimentary things they can’t do. True, machines can be programmed to combine symbols and compose grammatically sound sentences, yet they can’t truly comprehend the meaning behind those words, and many theorists suspect they’ll never be able to.

Robots Must Mimic People to Succeed

from The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind

In order for an AI to truly be life-like, it must emulate human traits and behave appropriately in a wide range of situations. This requires a value system—similar to the one we all instinctively use—whereby AI-infused robots would be programmed with a hierarchy of how everything in life is ranked. Robots with AI must also be self-aware, for they’ll need to make decisions about the future, which requires considering their own role in a given scenario.

Unlocking Our Brains Will Put AI in the Fast Lane

from Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100

The brain—and every thought or feeling it experiences—is merely a complex system of chemical reactions and electrical impulses. And as our understanding of this system expands, we’ll eventually recreate it in a computer-generated simulation, leading to the first true AI. There’s no way to know what might happen if or when that AI enters society, but an all-out war is rather unlikely. AI development won’t happen overnight, so we have plenty of time to prepare a plan for peace between humans and robots.

Take a deeper dive into any of Michio Kaku’s books today, and you’ll never think about the future the same way. Explore his titles—and more than 2,200 other nonfiction books—by launching the Blinkist app now.

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