Thursday, April 21, 2011

Skynet Self-Aware?

This post is not required; but it touches on a subject Jimmy has been bugging me about all semester.

One of the problems with being a macroeconomist is the number of people who are convinced that the future is going to be worse than the present.

You can see this in science fiction. Most science fiction movies do not present a positive future as in Star Trek, but rather a dark and terrible future as in The Terminator series (see the photo below). Fifteen years or so ago, my wife noted that all these movies seem to feature open fires burning in steel barrels … so, using the brilliant imagination of an economist, I came up with the original title of open-fire-in-steel-barrel-movies for this genre. There’s a lot of them: Blade Runner, the Road Warrior franchise, the Alien franchise,Twelve Monkeys, Back to the Future II (the one where they go to the future), Brazil, Total Recall, Soylent Green, Escape from New York, The Running Man. Is that enough to make my point? Even movies where the future has a nice, clean veneer, there’s an underlying dark side: the Star Wars saga, Avatar, Demolition Man, Silent Running, The Matrix franchise, Logan’s Run, Robocop, or Wall-E.

And yet, for the vast majority of humans who have ever lived on this planet, the human race was better off when they were older than when they were younger.

In part, this is true because the vast majority of humans who have ever lived did so within the last century or two.  

But, it’s also true that for the vast majority of years of civilized human history people’s lives were just about the same when they were older as when they were younger.

For my part, I’m a person, not a year, so that last point is inconsequential. Many people don’t seem to feel that way though.

Anyway …

According to the mythos laid out in the The Terminator series almost 30 years ago, SkyNet became self-aware last Tuesday evening.

In 1984, this was the vision of the years after 2011:

FTNItK: The Terminator features thinking machines from the future. Skynet is the first machine in the future that becomes self-aware: it knows what it is, and it knows what it wants. Specifically, that it is not a human, and that humans are a violent threat. The problem is that Skynet is a Defense Department computer system, so it uses those capabilities to attack humans in the future, and for convoluted reasons, to find a way to attack humans in the past as well.

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1 comment:

  1. I just watched District 9 over the holiday, and it can be added to the open-fire-in-steel-barrel list because ... there's an open fire in a steel barrel about half an hour into the film.

    P.S. Highly recommended, but very violent.