How Science Fiction Dystopianism Shapes the Debate over AI & Robotics

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Thierer, Adam. "How Science Fiction Dystopianism Shapes the Debate over AI & Robotics." "Innovation Matters" segment, Discourse magazine on line, 26 July 2022. As of September 2022, available at link here.[1]

Subhead (italics removed): "From Hal to the Borg and Cylons, fictional AIs and robots have been out to get us, which is fun as entertainment but doesn’t reflect reality"

Under section title, "Incessant Dystopianism Untethered from Reality"

In his recent book Robots, Penn State business professor John Jordan observes how over the last century “science fiction set the boundaries of the conceptual playing field before the engineers did.” Pointing to the plethora of literature and film that depicts robots, he notes: “No technology has ever been so widely described and explored before its commercial introduction.” Not the internet, cell phones, atomic energy or any others.

Indeed, public conceptions of these technologies, and even the very vocabulary of the field, has been shaped heavily by sci-fi plots beginning a hundred years ago with the 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which gave us the term “robot,” and Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film Metropolis, with its memorable Maschinenmensch, or “machine-human.” There has been a deep and rich imagination surrounding AI and robotics since then, but it has tended to be mostly negative and has grown more hostile over time. [* * *]

Such depictions, Thierer believes, have skewed journalism on robots, robotics, and AI, and skewed to the negative serious discussion of public policy. Such "dark-depictions of AI and robotics," Thierer finds ubiquitous in popular culture (at least in the Industrialized world), including works Thierer strongly likes, but finds unrealistic.

A short list includes: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Battlestar Galactica (both the 1978 original and the 2004 reboot), Black Mirror, Blade Runner, Ex Machina, Her, The Matrix, Robocop, The Stepford Wives, Terminator, Transcendence, Tron, WALL-E, Wargames and Westworld, among countless others. The least nefarious plots among these films and television shows rest on the idea that AI and robotics are going to drive us to a life of distraction, addiction or sloth. In more extreme cases, we’re warned about a future in which we are either going to be enslaved or destroyed by our new robotic or algorithmic overlords.

These works are fun, Thierer asserts — and most of them handled on this wiki — but their influence may be pernicious, summed up perhaps in Thierer' section title, "Techno-panic Thinking Shapes Policy Discussions," a point he develops beyond "Policy Discussions" to policy.

Lightly but effectively illustrated with classic images of robots, and the Borg Queen from STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT (1996).

RDE, finishing, 24Sep22