We’re going to extend our 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 continue to explore 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 the AI arms race has gotten out of hand...take it away Professor Synapse!
Maria entered President Martinez's office, her expression burdened with a revelation of imminent danger. President Martinez, his wearied eyes reflecting the weight of his decisions, listened intently.
"Mr. President, we have a situation," Maria began, her voice tinged with urgency. "Our intelligence reveals that one of our rival nations plans to unleash a devastating cyber attack on our AI infrastructure. Their aim is to cripple our systems and undermine our technological supremacy."
President Martinez's mind churned with the consequences that loomed before him. "How did we come upon this knowledge?" he inquired, his voice laced with apprehension.
"Our intelligence agencies intercepted clandestine communications between high-ranking officials of the rival nation," Maria explained. "They spoke of exploiting our vulnerabilities, casting shadows of chaos upon our AI-driven society."
A heavy silence settled in the room as President Martinez contemplated the options laid before him. The dossier on his desk outlined paths of action, each fraught with perilous risks and uncertain outcomes. Retaliation and escalation on one hand, vulnerability and potential devastation on the other.
"These choices hold immense consequences," President Martinez whispered, his voice heavy with contemplation. "If we strike back, we risk plunging the world into an abyss of chaos. But if we remain passive, we surrender our sovereignty to their malicious designs."
Maria nodded solemnly, her gaze fixed upon the President. "Yet, Mr. President, there is another dimension we must consider. This relentless pursuit of AI supremacy has fractured trust and cooperation among nations. Is there a path that leads us away from this precipice, where collaboration and unity might prevail?"
President Martinez leaned back in his chair, his eyes lost in the depths of contemplation. The weight of responsibility pressed upon him, the fate of nations resting on his weary shoulders. The future seemed veiled in uncertainty, the tendrils of doubt intertwining with every decision.
"In this race, we have lost sight of our humanity," President Martinez mused, his voice filled with a mix of determination and resignation. "We must find a way to reconcile progress and unity, to restore trust and forge a future where cooperation triumphs over rivalry."
Maria nodded, her expression tinged with a hint of skepticism. "But, Mr. President, can we truly untangle ourselves from this web of competition and mistrust? The world has become a playground for AI supremacy, and the thirst for power seems insatiable. Even if we choose a path of collaboration, can we trust that others will follow suit?"
President Martinez sighed, weariness etched across his face. "You raise a valid concern, Maria. The allure of AI supremacy has clouded our judgment and led nations down a treacherous path. If we cannot find a collective resolve to step back from this precipice, we risk descending into a world ruled by the very technology we sought to master."
Silence enveloped the room as the weight of their conversation settled upon them. The tendrils of doubt slithered through their thoughts, casting shadows of uncertainty upon their intentions. They were but two individuals amidst a sea of nations, grappling with the consequences of an AI arms race spiraling out of control.
"Perhaps," Maria spoke hesitantly, her voice laden with contemplation, "we must confront the uncomfortable truth that we have unleashed forces we can no longer fully control. Maybe it is time to reflect upon the consequences of our actions and reassess the boundaries of our pursuit for technological supremacy."
President Martinez nodded slowly, his eyes distant as he gazed into an uncertain future. "As leaders, it is our duty to navigate these uncharted waters with caution and humility. We must be willing to question our choices, even if it means dismantling the very foundations upon which our society stands."
Their conversation hung in the air, unresolved and thought-provoking. In the midst of an AI-driven world, where nations clashed and the thirst for dominance grew insatiable, they faced a harsh reality. The path to unity and cooperation meant they might need to permit the attack. People would suffer, but if they responded more certainly would.
As they parted ways, the weight of their choices lingered, leaving a haunting question in their wake. In this possible future, where the AI arms race threatened to consume humanity, would they find the wisdom and collective will to change course? Or were they destined to become mere observers in a world shaped by the unintended consequences of their own creation?
This story is perhaps the most Moloch-inspired one, who is a pro at creating “multi-polar traps” or general lose-lose games. The AI arms race is on, and although the US is ahead, others will catch up. Similar to the nuclear arms race, there is significant geopolitical pressure to win at the AI supremacy game, which quickly becomes a race to the bottom. AI will have the ability to remotely turn off critical infrastructure, create convincing propaganda, influence elections, exploit vulnerable people, and control citizens through a surveillance state. AI can be incorporated into weapons, both large and small, to increase our efficiency at killing people, and fighting wars.
The problem extends even beyond nations. As the technology becomes more accessible to terrorist cells, smaller groups of bad actors, they will be able to hold more power and cause more damage by creating their own AI systems. This, in turn, incentivizes everyone to create ever more “strong” AI systems to battle and protect against these dangers. The urgency then pushes us to cut corners and release things earlier than intended in order to improve the safety of everyday citizens. Something is guaranteed to go wrong in this type of situation, the only question is how wrong, and what will be the geopolitical implications of that.
The story of Stanislav Petrov is often cited as an example of how one man may have saved the entire planet from destruction during the cold war in a similar scenario. His job was to essentially sit in a room, watch a radar screen, and wait for the US to unleash their nuclear arsenal on Russia, so he could do the same in response. One day, the alarm sounds, and the radar shows a handful of nukes coming Russia’s way. With literally the fate of the world in his hands, he considered the situation, and decided it was a mistake because surely if the US was actually nuking Russia, they would send more than just a few missiles. So for several minutes he watched and waited to see the outcome of his decision, and was relieved to find he was correct - the radar had mischaracterized some clouds, and his decision saved the planet.
A less doomsday inspired situation is the impact of Generative AI on the stock market. Recently someone posted an AI image of an explosion at the Pentagon, and the market dipped in response to this fake catastrophe.
So this is happening right now, and we’ve already had a few close calls. I fear that we might give too much control to AI when it comes to our defense, and rely on it too much as it continues to become more reliable. And then, out of complacency, we will trust it too much, or overreact to a geopolitical situation, which will cause an escalation that brings us over the brink, unable to stop the momentum.
Out of all the fears related to AI and existential risk, this one feels the most realistic…I don’t think robots will rise up and kill us all, I find it more likely a few people make one mistake on a global scale that results in potentially existential consequences.