SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - As artificial intelligence is becoming more and more a part of our lives and has even begun to replace human beings in some lines of work, people are concerned about the relationship between humans and AI.
Is AI just a convenient assistant to humanity or will it pose a potential threat? What could happen if AI outsmarts us and impersonates humans some day? What if, in the future, AI could take human form and live among us, indistinguishable from humans?
Recently, the Washington Post carried an intriguing article entitled, "The Google engineer who thinks the company's AI has come to life." The subtitle was "AI ethicists warned Google not to impersonate humans. Now one of Google's own thinks there's a ghost in the machine." Blake Lemoine, a Google engineer, had claimed that Google's AI chatbot LaMDA was sentient.
Although a Google spokesperson was swift to dismiss Lemoine's claim, which the company thought farfetched, the possibility of AI impersonating humans unnerves us. If we can say that AI already has or will have its own "ego" in the near future, then it will think and feel like a human. Then, humans will have a powerful rival and competitor. Who knows? AI may emerge as a new species of human beings in the 2050s, as Dan Brown explores in his 2017 novel, "Origin."
There are myriad movies about AI already and most of them are a solemn warning. In the "Terminator" series, for example, an AI named Skynet takes over and tries to render the human species extinct. In the "Matrix" films, too, AI controls human beings via a virtual reality program. In 2008's "Eagle Eye," an AI supercomputer under the US Department of Defense constantly surveils and controls human beings. In "Oblivion" (2013), AI exploits and manipulates humans.
There are also more sympathetic portrayals. Steven Spielberg's 2001 film, "A.I. Artificial Intelligence," delves into issues surrounding AI developing feelings. "Bicentennial Man" (1999), too, portrays an intelligent AI android named Andrew that initially mimics humans and then eventually becomes a human being himself at the cost of his otherwise eternal life as a machine.
Some time ago, I watched a futuristic movie about artificial intelligence that was stunningly enlightening, 2018's "Extinction," released on Netflix. A warning now that the following will completely reveal the plot, so take this as the last chance to watch it unspoiled.
Regardless of film critics' mostly negative reviews, I think the theme of the movie is timely and compelling because it makes us see things from alternative perspectives in an era where AI is rapidly replacing humans in many spheres of our lives.
In "Extinction," Peter, the protagonist, is an engineer who has recurrent nightmares of an alien invasion. One day, his nightmares become reality. Alien spaceships arrive in the city and bomb his town, causing serious damage. An alien warrior breaks into his home, but for some reason, he does not shoot Peter's daughter, whom he has found under the bed. Using the alien soldier's hesitation, Peter paralyzes him.
Fleeing from their apartment, Peter and his family seek shelter at Peter's workplace. They manage to arrive at Peter's factory, but Peter's wife Alice is seriously injured from a bomb blast. A medic at the factory examines her and informs Peter that he cannot save her. Meanwhile, the alien whom Peter has paralyzed appears at the factory. When the alien removes his helmet, Peter is surprised because he looks like exactly like a human being. The alien assures Peter that he can save his wife. When the alien opens her abdomen to see the injury, Peter is surprised to find that his wife is a synthetic android.
Now Peter hears the truth from the alien named Miles. Peter and his family are not humans, but AI androids. So are his colleagues at his workplace. Those who he thinks of as aliens are, in fact, humans. Fifty years ago, there was war between humans and AI androids ignited by mutual distrust. The AI androids drove humans off the planet and, as a result, humans had to live on Mars for the past 50 years. What looks like an alien invasion is therefore the return of humans to reclaim their former planet. At Peter's home, Miles cannot kill Peter's young daughter because he has expected AI androids to be hideous monsters, not families with young children in human shapes.
"Extinction" is unique in that it frames the perspective of the AI, not that of humans. Until the end of the movie, viewers had no doubt about the humanity of Peter's family. This movie suggests that we should see things not only from our own perspective, but also from other's viewpoints. Then, we can broaden the horizon of our perception.
In the near future, AI androids may live among us in human form, and we should prepare for such circumstances. In the era of AI, we cannot simply antagonize AI androids. Instead, we should seek peaceful coexistence and reconciliation between humans and AI androids.
- The writer is a contributor for the paper. The Korea Herald is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 news media organisations.