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Why is 'AI' often so negatively portrayed?

  1. Jun 16, 2017 #1


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    I just have a simple question, which probably a psychologist might better answer; but, here it goes...

    Why is AI so badly portrayed by people? I'm kind of tired of all the negativity surrounding AI, which seems unwarranted in any way.

    Why do people, often well educated and intelligent people/scientists, portray AI in such a negative manner? I'm talking about movies, books, and sci-fi otherwise. Is it that portraying AI negatively sells well? Are people just afraid of what AI might entail? I rarely hear people talking about the positives of having general AI, and there are many if not more than negative things to say about functional general AI.

    So, what's all the hot air and speculation about AI being detrimental or dooming? If I become irrelevant within my lifetime, then all the better that I get to witness an interesting future in which I get to participate in, otherwise can all the nay-sayer and neo-Luddites remain calm and quiet until that day arrives?
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  3. Jun 16, 2017 #2


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    That's my bet.

    My understanding is that some people are afraid of witnessing this interesting future from quite an uninteresting position, being poor, hungry and unemployed. Hard to say whether they are right or not. I admit I have long stopped to believe in a bright, happy future for everyone, it was already predicted several times in my lifetime and so far has not realized.
  4. Jun 16, 2017 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    Wait a second. Perry Mason would say "Objection! Assumes facts not in evidence!"

    AI is portrayed both positively and negatively. If your question is "Why is it portrayed more often negatively", I'd like to see some proof of that. If your question is "When you don't consider the times it's portrayed positively, it's always portrayed negatively", I would agree with that, but it's kind of true by construction.
  5. Jun 16, 2017 #4
    Following up on @Vanadium 50's comment - isn't context needed to even discuss this? Beginning with fantasy vs. real-world, say?

    AI presented in sci fi movies & books is pure fantasy; it's part of the genre So although it might bother you personally, objecting to a villainous AI in a sci fi movie makes as much sense as objecting to a villainous monster in a sci fi movie. And if you still wanted to tilt at this particular windmill, you'd need to somehow attempt a survey of positive vs. negative vs. neutral instances in movies & books - pretty much an impossible task given the size of the literature & the impossibility of catching all instances. Moreover it's easy to recall positive or neutral instances, or even ambivalent instances with both positive and negative implications - e.g. the galaxy wide "General Information" AI in Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand.

    And on the other hand, if you're going to talk about real-world possibilities for AI, context becomes hugely important: What specific application? Who is talking about this application? What are they saying? Further, if you are going to discuss all this in a serious way, you'd have to be willing to acknowledge that all technologies have the potential for doing harm; AI is not exempted.
  6. Jun 16, 2017 #5


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    In regards to whether AI is depicted positively or negatively. That's a highly culturally relevant question. For the most part, I think most readers here are of Western origin. I can only speak for myself and mention some notable examples of AI in cinema. 2001, Terminator series, Matrix, Blade Runner, AI (although AI has a rather positive view of AI in general). As for books, I am only familiar with stuff like Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. Never read too much of Isaac Asimov; but, the man went so far and tried making rules of ethical conduct for artificial intelligence. I've read only Rendevous with Rama by Arthur C Clarke, which had little mention of AI in it.

    I think doing some analytical and easy research on Google will show results portraying AI in the mind of the ordinary folk as a potential threat to humans.

    Instead of nitpicking, I'm going to say that in general AI is viewed with some uncertainty, and that uncertainty is a breeding ground for speculation and hype?

    Elon Musk, who is idolized by many has his own serious concerns in regards to AI. Before I go on a tangent, is it agreeable that in general AI is viewed with some uncertainty, to put it mildly?
  7. Jun 16, 2017 #6


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    n01 asks:
    H.A.L. 9000
  8. Jun 16, 2017 #7
    Which movie? In the first HAL was evil, in the sequel HAL was good.
  9. Jun 16, 2017 #8


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    The original movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey
  10. Jun 16, 2017 #9
    You're missing my point. You gave a negative example; I pointed out there is a positive example to counterbalance it. This goes to the OP's unsupported claim that AI is portrayed negatively in sci-fi w/out significant exception.
  11. Jun 16, 2017 #10


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    I think I understand your point. However, for some peculiar reason, people seem to fear the unknown, case in point AI.

    My question is twofold. Is there really anything worth speculating about? And, can anything meaningful be said without hyperbole and fear mongering about AI in general?
  12. Jun 16, 2017 #11
    If your goal is to rescue AI, I'd suggest avoiding criticism of depictions in sci fi. As I tried to point out, there are many wild & crazy villains in sci fi; AI gone mad is just one of them. You're not going to change this.

    What really matters is how AI would be implemented in the real world in the near term & whether people object to specific implementations. That's the only territory where your effort to encourage a positive view could make a difference. But if you go that route, you will then honestly have to look at a specific implementation & the possible consequences. This gets very messy, like any social/technological discussion, of course.

    I suppose one thing you could do, if you have enough background in AI, is propose an Insights article in which you cite positive examples of hypothetical or likely applications?
  13. Jun 16, 2017 #12


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    I'll just leave the open-ended question for now in case anyone more knowledgeable comes around and happens to stumble on my wanderings, but, I do appreciate the advice:

    Can anything meaningful be said without hyperbole and fear mongering about AI in general?
  14. Jun 16, 2017 #13

    Vanadium 50

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    On the other side, C3PO and R2D2. Tom Servo and Crow. The Jetson's Rosie. R. Daneel Olivaw.
  15. Jun 16, 2017 #14


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    There are plenty of examples of AI being represented in a positive light, two examples that jump to mind are Data from Star Trek and Vision from the Avenger's films (who counterbalances the evil AI ultron). Even in some of the negative examples listed above like Terminator or the Matrix there were AIs who were allies like the reprogrammed Arnie or the Oracle.

    I think there's a few reasons why negative AI are a common enemy in fiction:

    1) It's an easy enemy. Everyone can understand it and it allows you to have a lot of violence in visual media without being an adult rated film. It also takes some of the moral ambiguity out of things as our heros mow down waves of machinery rather than flesh and blood beings.

    2) Human history has seen plenty of examples of more advanced societies displacing, enslaving and otherwise destroying less advanced ones. So there's always an undercurrent of that fear in a lot of our fiction, when AIs are your protagonists they can be easily cast in the role of more advanced aggressor (the same can be said of aliens).

    3) It's "realistic" in the sense that a thinking machine appears to be more plausible than demons, monsters or aliens. We're living in an age of increasingly sophisticated thinking machines so it plugs into the current narrative.

    As to whether or not we should be afraid I think it's the same as anything; you have to be wary of the possible negative consequences. Whether its being economically outcompeted, accidental war crimes as drones misinterpret orders or a straight up terminator situation.
  16. Jun 16, 2017 #15


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    I think there is a visibility problem kind of inherent to human created media in that it is human-centric. As a result, heros are almost always human wheras villans may be ai. But if people put a bit more thought into it, with that in mind, i'm sure they can think of numerous examples of benevolent ai as minor characters.
  17. Jun 16, 2017 #16
    Easily. This comes to me immediately: Heinlein's The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, where "Mike" is a huge computer running the moon; it becomes sentient and is the hero's best friend.

    Or what about "Jarvis" in the Iron Man movies? There may be one in the series I've missed where Jarvis is a villain, but the three or four IM/Avengers movies I've seen, he's Stark's best buddy and definitely a "good guy."

    Or turning to AI as embodied in androids: The "synthetics" in the Alien movies started out as evil; then with Bishop in the second movie became good; then evil in the third movie with a different Bishop; then good again in the fourth movie. I haven't seen the latest prequel, but I understand even in that there is both a good synthetic & a bad synthetic. Same with Next Generation, we had good Data and bad Lore. In Voyager, AI as embodied in the holographic entity known as the Doctor was also good. And in the Matrix movies, the AI ("programs") started out as all bad (agents; the AI system overall); then we started seeing good instances as of the second movie, e.g. the Oracle was revealed to have been a program.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2017
  18. Jun 16, 2017 #17
    Well I would think it was somewhat connected to a comparison of dystopian vs non dystopian films.

    Here's a list of top 500 dystopian films:


    Here's a list of non-dystopian films:

    Exercise for the reader: How many of each feature AI?

    There are 17. 10 Of them are star trek.

    Now I am not claiming either of these lists is exhaustive. But that's a pretty stark difference.

    Here is a list of films specific to A.I.

    But it's pretty selective. I haven't gone through and checked how many I would consider dystopian.

    We could bring data to this question. :D

    -Dave K
  19. Jun 16, 2017 #18

    jack action

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    Let's start by answering this question: Why anyone would think AI can be a good thing?

    Right now we have machines where for every action, a reaction have been programmed by a human being. Although - with the amazing calculation and storage power of today's computers - it may mimics intelligence, that is not AI.

    The problem with that concept is that what will the machine do when it will face an action not thought by the programmers? That can be scary and one solution that seems promising for this problem is AI.

    AI is a machine that can learn from its actions, meaning it will do in the future things that weren't thought by the programmers. This is great, because - like a human - face with an unlikely situation, it can choose to do the «right thing» instead of «what is most probably the right thing» given by a set of probability and statistics, for example. There, you have the positive.

    But once you think about it, the next question is what is the «right thing»? How will a machine, on its own, identify the «right thing» to do? It is reprogramming itself by itself. Will it interpret correctly the initial desires of the programmers? Will it wander off on its own, doing other things not originally planned?

    The catastrophic scenarios of today are mainly based on the fact that we wouldn't be able to turn off such a machine that goes crazy. Or that «crazy» will sneak up on us once we have given full control on our life to such machines. I think such scenarios are highly pessimistic and unrealistic. But the question on how to program a program that reprograms itself is a still a valid and unanswered question where all aspects must be evaluated.
  20. Jun 16, 2017 #19
    Ai is not considered evil or malevolent in general and like fire or nuclear energy it is recognized as useful/beneficial but considered dangerous if not properly managed. In fact the likes of Stephen Hawking consider it one of the likely causes of the demise of humanity if we take a cavalier attitude toward its implementation. The Asilomar conference on AI 2017 gave 23 principles to be applied to prevent an unintentional AI catastrophe.
  21. Jun 16, 2017 #20
    Here's the thought that I always have:

    Every awful thing that's been done in history has been done for irrational reasons. (Greed, jealousy, posturing, religious zealotry, etc.) So my question is, are machines rational? If so, why would we be worried?

    -Dave K
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