We’re going to take a break from my ramblings of the abstract, and turn our attention to some potential futures that represent how things can go wrong. My intention is not to fear-monger or send you into panic mode. I simply want you to look Moloch straight in the eyes with me, to see the path he’s leading us all toward for the lulz. To feel that fear, but not be frozen by it. To draw strength from it, and a plan to defeat him…potentially once and for all.
Let’s explore a few scenarios in Twilight Zone style together that I co-wrote with Professor Synapse, based on what I’ve read from experts like Max Tegmark and Eliezer Yudkowsky, who have outlined some of the dangerous futures for us. We can call these the Silicon Zone to help us look forward not from the 30,000 foot height, but in the shoes of a single person living through these possible realities. Then we’ll reflect and consider the trajectory together.
As Anna made her way home from work, she couldn't help but notice the growing sense of unease that permeated everything around her. The streets were a miasma of silence, and the buildings loomed over her like dark, foreboding giants. She wished her brother was with her. He’d been living at her place while he struggled to find a new job. Another one lost to AI was becoming her generation’s motto.
She passed by rows of crumbling tenements, their windows boarded up and their doors hanging off their hinges. People eyed her hungrily, but instead of shying away she stopped and gave Paul, a man forced to live on the street with his dog, a few credits because she could not handle the guilt. As if she was somehow responsible.
Anna and her best friend, Claudia, often discussed the injustices they witnessed. Claudia had joined a group advocating for the responsible use of AI, striving to find a balance between technological advancement and human welfare.
It was all so unfair, Anna thought. She had grown up with this technology, had learned how to leverage it to her advantage. And yet, here she was, walking past these forgotten people on her way home to her comfortable apartment, where she could lose herself in the endless sea of AI-generated entertainment.
But even that solace was starting to feel hollow. The more she watched, the more she realized that the world she was seeing was not the world she had grown up in. The news was no longer trustworthy, and even the movies and TV shows seemed to have an agenda of their own. Always trying to sell her something.
One day, she turned on the news to see that a group of domestic terrorists had bombed a government building in protest of the increasing role of AI in society. Claudia called her, distraught, sharing that some of their group members had been arrested for protesting peacefully, and was wondering if she could come to dinner to talk about it.
That night, Claudia, Tom, and Anna sat around the dinner table, the heavy silence hung in the air. Each of them was lost in their own thoughts, unable to shake off the pervasive feeling of despair that had settled over their world.
Tom broke the silence first. "We used to imagine a future where technology made everything better. Where we could solve all the world's problems with the click of a button," he said, his voice tinged with bitterness.
Claudia nodded solemnly. "Yeah, but now it feels like we're living in a dystopia. A world where AI has taken over everything we care about, and we're just along for the ride," she said, her voice heavy with sadness.
Anna looked up from her plate, her eyes filled with pain. "The worst part is that we let it happen. We embraced AI without thinking about the consequences. We thought we could control it, but now it's controlling us," she said, her voice trembling with emotion.
Tom reached out and took her hand. "It's not just us, Anna. The entire world is caught in this cycle of dependence on technology. We're all unable to break free," he said, his voice filled with frustration.
Claudia leaned back in her chair, looking up at the ceiling. "We've lost our humanity. We're so focused on efficiency and productivity that we've forgotten what it means to be human. We've forgotten how to connect with each other," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
As they sat there, reflecting on the state of their world, the heavy feeling of hopelessness lingered in the air. It felt like there was nothing they could do to change the course of history, to undo the damage that had been done.
Suddenly, their phones buzzed with a news alert. Another domestic terrorist attack, not too far away from where they were sitting. They all looked at each other, feeling the weight of the situation.
"What's the point of fighting against the machines if we can't even stop our own kind from turning on each other?" Tom said, his voice breaking with emotion.
Claudia shook her head. "I don't know, Tom. But we have to keep trying, don't we? We can't just give up, even if it feels like we're not making any progress," but her own voice betrayed her desperation.
Anna looked down at her plate, feeling the weight of the conversation settling over her. "But what if we're fighting for something that's already lost? What if there's no turning back from this, no way to…?" she trails off to a whisper.
Over the weeks and months that followed, the country was torn apart by a series of attacks, both by those who believed in the power of AI and those who feared it. Anna tried to stay out of it all, but it was impossible. Everywhere she looked, there was violence and destruction. People stopped talking to their neighbors, stopped trusting anyone outside their own small circles.
In the end, Anna realized that she had been naive. She had thought that AI was a tool that could be controlled, something that could be harnessed for the good of society. But she had been wrong.
I think we’ll look back on 2022 as the last year before synthetic media overran our world, and I worry it might bring out the worst in us. We are already susceptible to sensationalized or “fake” news, brought on by systems that reward it, and bad actors trying to manipulate us. This might not be a world where we’re being killed by robots, but in some ways it’s more terrifying because this future could happen more proximally. We’ve already seen glimpses of it through radicalized men and women performing mass shootings, many of them targeting children. The individualism which drives the US, has also driven us into ideological trenches. North and South might not be meeting on a field to shoot at one another, but we are experiencing a contemporary kind of civil war filled with invective and hate largely left over from that war. The wounds never really healed, and social media has reopened them to fester.
We’ve been talking about how isolated people have become for years now. The book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam, released in the year 2000, had it right. There has been a decline in neighborly relationships, smaller in person community activities, hobbies, etc. which has made it more difficult than ever to truly connect on a personal level with people. Even religion, which you know…there are some issues with…was still a place for a community where people came together to unite around a largely prosocial or harmless activity. It still is for many, but nothing has come along to replace it as that foundation for social cohesion.
I worry that once we enter into this cycle, it will be almost impossible to get out, because truth and relationships will have been degraded and eroded to a level we can’t easily come back from, and the Golems will continue to generate content that we can never really know what is truth, and what is fiction. The human mind was not built to comprehend that, so we must tread lightly in how we wield this technology. What happens when truth can be generated?
Moloch taps his well manicured nails together in the shadows, only his glowing red eyes visible, and the rhythmic clicking a reminder of his presence. He smiles wide, white teeth glimmering with his barely contained excitement because everything is going exactly as planned.