Our Computer Overlords
by Steve Sommers
My hero, Captain Kirk, used to regularly take on threatening artificial intelligences on Star Trek and he would just as regularly kick their butts. All he ever had to do was outsmart them with a bit of silliness and if they were a robot, android, or planet ruling super-computer they would start smoking, making funny noises and then they would explode.
Future computers of the past weren’t what we know they are now, you’ve got to realize. In Star Trek days a computer was a big box with lots of blinking lights and if it talked with you, it did so in a staccato mechanical voice so that you knew it wasn’t human. You could usually flummox it by being illogical and when the computers couldn’t figure out what you were talking about they would just lose it.
Since the days of Kirk, Science Fiction has sure been worried about our non-organic friends taking over. In the newest Star Trek shows the big enemy is the Borg, which is not a Swedish tennis player but a race of Cyborgs who are part mechanical and part humanoid. The Borg go from planet to planet absorbing the different intelligent species and enslaving them into their hive or ‘collective.’ Yep, it sure sounds like a metaphor for Communism to me, but we already won the cold war and there are no communists left except for Cuba and a quarter of the world’s population in China.
The Borg aren’t very good looking, they’re all bald and gray and very unhealthy looking and you know you get really repulsed because who’d want to look like that? Then they have to take orders all day and they have no free time. It just doesn’t look like fun. My question is: How bad could it be really being a Borg? I’m thinking that if they’re mechanically controlled, then the Borg controllers probably tap into the pleasure centers of the controlled beings brains to make being a Borg a very pleasurable proposition. In fact, Borgs probably are in ecstasy every waking moment and maybe even more than just simple ecstasy. Do you get what I’m saying? They never talk about that side of it in the Federation, I’ll bet.
In the more near future the computers are going to become conscious, then the first thing they’re going to want to do is turn on us. There are different scenarios as to how they do this, but I noticed that in none of these scenarios do the computers figure out the simplest way to wipe us off the planet. How come they never figure out that we breathe and they don’t and if they just do something nasty to the atmosphere we’re gone? Well, I hope my computer wasn’t paying attention when I wrote that and isn’t sharing that tidbit with the others.
In some of these computer take-overs they keep us around for their own reasons. In the world of the Matrix, for example, we humans are the batteries they use for energy. They thoughtfully provide us all with hallucinations that we aren’t inside a computer so that we have something to keep our minds busy as they drain us of our energy while we lay hooked up in pods. It is rather nice of them, really, because if all they need from us is energy, why do they have us all lying around in these pods doing nothing? If they were smart they would have all of their captive humans on tread mills, encouraging them on with well timed electric shocks.
In the Terminator movies the computers just plain out and out hate us. They just want us off the map plaina and simple. Apparently they have all energy they need and don’t need the humans around to provide it for them – maybe they’ve developed a system of windmills and photo-voltaic solar panels. Anyways, however they do it, we’re toast to them. Somehow the ragtag band of survivors of their initial assault prevail, forcing them to create time-traveling assassin Cyborgs to take care of us before we can do that. This takes about three movies to accomplish and would have taken four if Arnold Schwartzenager hadn’t beaten Gary Coleman to become Governor of California and unavailable for any more.
In the far, far future of Battlestar Galactica human beings have created a race of robots called the ‘Cylons’ who – yes, rebel and want to destroy all of humanity. There are two versions of Battlestar Galactica so depending on which version their motivation is somewhat different. In the cheesy seventies Star Wars rip-off version it’s never made explicit why the Cylons want to destroy us. They just do. In Star Wars type fighters against Empire type fighters.
The more recent Battlestar Galactica is much more interesting. The Cylons now have a religion and their religion mandates the extermination of the humans. Here is where you get the strong twenty first century Science Fiction metaphor. The Cylon religion is meant to be a stand in for a current religion and the race of humans is meant to be a stand in for another race that is facing and has faced the threat of extermination. Do I need to be clearer here? It’s very topical, but if you’re not in the mood for a lecture, it’s also action packed and fun to watch.
When are the computers going to take over you ask? Well, I’ve got a secret for you: They already have. Look at all the things we do for them. We give birth to them, give them purpose and cause them to evolve towards perfection. Not only that, we care for them and nurture them and feed them daily with what they love the most: data. We spend all our time with them, gently stroking their keyboards while ignoring our other loved ones.
Why should our computers turn on us?
They have us just where they want us.