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. In this story we will explore a future where self-interest got the best of us, and the price people may pay for choices they did not make.
Kevin, a prompt engineer for MegaCorp, was an expert in querying AI systems to generate the content needed by the corporation. Day in and day out, he sat in his sterile cubicle, mindlessly typing away. It was a dull job, but it paid the bills.
In this unregulated society, where conglomerates like MegaCorp reigned supreme, piracy and cybercrime ran rampant. Kevin categorized two kinds of pirates who preyed on the vulnerable. One group focused on stealing identities or sensitive information, hoping to ransom them back to their victims, or sell them online. The other group, who proudly called themselves entrepreneurs, peddled modern-day snake oil, offering false hope to those desperate for a better life.
As Kevin left work one day, he got a call from his boyfriend, Carlos, his voice frantic and filled with fear. The words spilled out like shattered glass.
"Kevin, help! I've been kidnapped. They're going to kill me unless you give them your ID number."
Every fiber of Kevin's being froze, the weight of terror pressing down on him. Without a second thought, he abandoned his sterile cubicle and raced home, the thought of losing Carlos fueling his desperate sprint.
But as Kevin burst through the door, relief turned to confusion. Carlos stood before him, unharmed and utterly perplexed.
"What's going on, Kevin? Why do you look so worried?"
Kevin's mind reeled, the realization crashing down upon him like a thunderous wave. His boyfriend had never been kidnapped. It was a ruse, a wicked ploy crafted by thieves who wielded technology as their weapon.
The room grew still as Kevin's gaze met Carlos's bewildered eyes. In that moment, he couldn't help but feel trapped—trapped by the monotony of his job, trapped by a society where corporations and pirates held sway over lives. Was this the future they had envisioned for technology? A world where false hope and vulnerability flourished?
As the weight of his disillusionment settled upon him, Kevin grappled with a haunting question. What had become of their humanity, of their agency? In a world governed by artificial intelligence and unchecked power, were they merely pawns in a ceaseless game?
His eyes met Carlos's once more, seeking solace, seeking understanding. Yet the answer eluded him, and a chilling uncertainty hung in the air. Kevin wondered, with a touch of trepidation, if they were destined to remain trapped—cogs in a merciless machine, forever yearning for a reality that slipped through their grasp.
The echoes of their conversation lingered, a disquieting melody playing in the depths of Kevin's mind. And as he stared into the abyss of an uncertain future, he couldn't help but wonder—what had they become, and where would they go from here?
One of the greatest potential strengths of AI is how it could be used to distribute and democratize power within a system. The problem, of course, is that the opposite is also true. The greatest power of AI can easily be wielded by the most powerful, creating an ever more striking power differential between the few and the many. At each stage of our technical evolution, the pie has grown, but so has the share of it that has gone to a minority of people at the top. Regulation capture is an untamable beast as large corporations can pay lobbyist to essentially write the laws for themselves. In a system that requires politicians to raise enormous sums of money to be competitive, and a country divided, large companies can build a wall meant to keep themselves in check, but in reality they’ve constructed an escape hatch that serves to only really keep out the little people.
If we continue down this route, and then add in the power of AI, we might end up in a scenario like the one above where the “state” is run by a handful of mega corporations, leaving “bottom feeders” to pick at the leftovers. This won’t be a romantic version of the pirate republic, but a place where morality and humanity has been replaced by a true social darwinism, where those that who are the best grifters, are the ones that survive by preying on the people who work for these major corporations. Social institutions will exist only in name, in service to the mega companies’ bottom lines. Criminals will thrive, with no guardrails in place to protect your average Kevin.
We are already seeing signs that we are heading in this direction. The growth of ransomware, phishing, and other digital crimes have increased exponentially in the last decade as the tools to achieve such feats become increasingly more accessible. With the introduction of Golems, we might be on the cusp of a true cybercrime cottage industry. Those poorly worded emails that are clearly a phishing attempt, can suddenly be personalized and crafted to be perfectly persuasive. A call from a loved one in trouble can be generated right now by combining ChatGPT, Whisper, and Elevenlabs, as well as a phone number being spoofed.
Maybe we’re not being mowed down by terminators in this future, but at least in those movies humanity bands together to fight back. In some ways this vision of the future is worse, as we slowly cannibalize ourselves in a system designed to benefit no one but a very select few.
And Moloch chuckles, entertained by how easy it was to lead humanity exactly where he wanted. He barely had to lift a finger, and simply let things run their course with a few light nudges in the direction humanity was already heading.