There is a chance that at some point in your life, a merciless robot will kill you. No, seriously.

In case you missed it, there is a growing concern about artificial intelligence being a risky factor in the future of mankind. There are a number of elements that add up to these fears:

  • The evolution of computational power and recent developments on AI suggest that we maybe close to producing an intelligent thing.
  • It is a safe assumption that if we come up with a being that has any sort of self preservation instinct, it will just kill us all. Just to be on the safe side, you know. You don't need to be very smart to understand that humans are not to be trusted, specially if we feel threatened. That will escalate quickly, if I had to guess.
  • We've already discussed here that there's something wrong with statistics, suggesting that there may be a level of technological progress over which any civilization self destructs. AI may well be that threshold.
  • Google scared the shit out of everyone when they purchase these unsettling robots (please watch the video and go build a bunker in your basement) for who knows what reason. It triggered our fear that it will all happen in secret, within some rich company's hidden lab, and we will know nothing about it until it is too late.
  • Hollywood needs a new wave of disaster blockbusters to substitute the dry well of zombies.

I feel it is my responsibility that you are not caught off guard when killer robots becomes all a rave. You need to prepare for the apocalypse or, even more important, you need to prepare for a conversation about it. So the following is a list of key references to refresh all we know about the topic.

  • Terminator 1 & 2. Key takeaways: i) it is unclear whether you should trust an Arnold robot if you see one, he's as likely trying to kill you than trying to save you; ii) if robots have not sent already someone to kill someone else, it is because they win the war.

  • Matrix. Key takeaways: for all we know, robots may have already won and we're being tricked as if we had normal lifes, while the truth is that they're manipulating us for strange reasons (the idea of humans being a source of energy for machines was always laughable to me).

  • Isaac Asimov. Get to know the 3 laws of robotics, there will be endless discussions about them.
  • The Imitation Game. Key takeaways: meet Alan Turing, the man behind the Turing test that will come in handy at the time.
  • Battlestar Gallactica. Key takeaways: what is the soul? is human consciousness any better than an artificial one? what does it mean to be a person? what is the meaning of life?
  • 2001. Key takeaways: never trust a soft spoken computer, Dave.
  • Artificial Intelligence. Key takeaways: robots can be pretty boring too.

And once you have revisited these classics, get ready for the future with these:

  • Robopocalypse. Read this book if you want to know the shape of things to come. Trust the experts, Spielberg bought the rights to produce a film, so this is going to be big.
  • Ex Machina. Excellent film about the key questions around AI. Loved it. Highly recommended. I won’t spoil anything here but you need to watch it twice to really appreciate the subtle changes in its point of view. I’ll write a review in a few weeks about this.
  • Trascendent Man. A different take on the subject in this documentary: instead of robots killing us all, we will merge with them in order to enhance our capabilities, blurring the lines of where the man ends and the machine begins. We’re talking cyborgs here. Cool.

Despite the sarcasm around this post, this one is a legitimate concern. One that relates to a fundamental question: how should humans approach the development of technologies that are potentially devastating for our race. This question surrounds genetics engineering and nuclear power, for instance. “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Can you do anything about it? No (well... yes, share this post on Facebook or something). Is your fear going to help you? No. So, keep calm and carry on with your long weekend, Dave.