Hollywood’s AI obsession

Is the takeover of robots really nigh?
24 February 2022

Interview with 

Kanta Dihal, University of Cambridge




Artificial Intelligence is a feature of so much popular media and science fiction. From 2001: A Space Odyssey to Westworld, Bladerunner to The Matrix. Chris Smith and Kanta Dihal figure out which Hollywood blockbuster is close to getting it all right...

Kanta - There have always been, in mythology, stories about people building thinking machines or intelligent objects that get out of hand because they didn't get the right instructions or they took their commands too literally, or they were too strong and uncontrollable. Any reason that you could come up with where an intelligent machine could cause havoc has already been conceived 1500 years ago.

Chris - But the people making these suggestions are not nut cases necessarily, are they? Stephen Hawking said some pretty strong things about these sorts of technologies, and said that they would be the death of us.

Kanta - So, on the one hand, you have these stories of super intelligent machines that might not think humans are worth hanging out with because of our track record, and on the other hand, there are the limitations to the kinds of things that we have been building so far. The massive flaws some of these technologies have turned out to have, but still the huge trust that is placed in them, and the extent to which human common sense is sometimes being replaced by them.

Rob - Kanta, I was wondering if there was any speculative fiction, or even any movies, that you think does a good job of capturing the AI scenarios that you think are most likely?

Kanta - That's a really interesting one. One scenario that is obviously extrapolated into the ridiculous, but I still think is worth thinking about is depicted in WALL-E, which touches on two really interesting things. One is the idea of over pollution, of humans having destroyed earth, and then trying to fix it using technology - you have the little robot WALL-E trying by his little self to tidy up these massive landscapes of waste that humans have created, and I think that is a very important message when thinking through technological fixes to things that we have done in the past. The other one is how dependent the humans depicted in the film are on technology, because they're all these blobs who never come out of their chair and always sit in front of the screen.

Chris - Quite accurate in that respect then.

Kanta - And this was before the invention of the smartphone. So yes, absolutely.


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