Killer Robots Might Be Humanity’s Redemption
Originally published on Huffington Post
There has been considerable alarm among both activist and scientific circles over the developing of killer robots. No less a person than Stephen Hawking has warned about the possible dangers of Artificial Intelligence, including human extinction. A nihilist might be tempted to ask, well, given that people have been slitting each other’s throats since the birth of history, why not give someone else a chance?
The dangers of AI has also concerned artists. In fact, we can say artists have anticipated scientists by centuries – what is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein if not a fear of scientific progress creating a sentient, non-human being? Likewise, this subject is also the core theme of the Terminator franchise. In the series, Skynet, a powerful military computer system, becomes self-aware and launches a devastating attack on all humanity. The cataclysmic event, biblically named Judgment Day, wipes out most of humankind but for small pockets who later unite to form the Resistance against the machines. This is crucial – a non-human entity achieved what humans have failed to do; unite people under the banner of humanity.
The reality is that humanity and human unity does not exist and has never existed. The greatest of visionaries, from the time of Alexander the Great, have tried to forge human unity and raise the standards of civilization – and failed. The last great attempt was Communism – after its miserable collapse, we witnessed the rise and legitimization of identity politics based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality and so on. These micro conflicts have dominated our thinking so much that even leftists nowadays are reluctant to contemplate about the really big picture.
The legitimate war against the greatest threat to civilization in the previous century, Nazism, failed to unite humanity just as the equally legitimate war against the barbarities of Islamism will also fail. Why is this? Even at their worst, the Nazis and the Islamists were only human. They did what their predecessors did, the Ottomans, White and Arab slave merchants, the Mongols, the Inquisitors, the Hindus. These genocidaires did not deny the idea of humanity – they just denied the idea of humanity to people who they considered less than human. But this too is a very human trait.
The idea of a essentially benevolent humanity is based on the same lies as the idea of an essentially benevolent God. Even when the worst among us – in the contemporary age, one can safely say that the award goes to the Islamists – are physically removed, they will only be replaced by others. Humankind’s propensity for violence towards its own species is intrinsic to its constitution. This is the greatest lesson from Freud’sclassic Civilization and Its Discontents.
And this violence of human towards human will continue as long as the enemy of a politics is a human. The terrorist, the racist, the sexist, the genocidaire, the capitalist and the people who oppose them all possess human identities, but not the identity of humanity though they may claim to act in its name. Is there a way out of this Gordian knot?
In Alan Moore’s epic graphic novel Watchmen, the brilliant character of Adrian Veidt resolves this paradox – at a time when the US and the USSR were heading towards nuclear war and mutual destruction, he invents something resembling an alien life form and unleashes it on earth, resulting in the death of millions. But this fear of the non-human other shocked the world powers so much, that they reconciled their differences and vowed to build unity.
In this age torn apart by ethnic and religious conflicts, it may very well be that these ‘killer robots’ might teach us the value of unity, the ridiculousness of the politics of difference, and what it is to be human. For once in history, we will be united under one identity against one common enemy – a non-human, who falls beyond the fallible concepts of feelings and morals. AI might actually provide us the redemption that we need from ourselves.
Losses will be great, but we have already lost so much at each other’s hands. Our victory, however, will be in our united, permanent struggle under the banner of a genuine, universal humanity.