What Scares Us Most About AI

ai artificial intelligence fears black mirror

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

Artificial Intelligence, we’re told, is changing everything. Across every industry, the revolution has already begun. AI is helping you choose what to buy, watch, and re-post. It’s driving cars, identifying medical conditions, and conducting galaxy merger investigations (we all know what those are, right?). It’s helping to anticipate the effects of climate change and protect endangered species.

It can do everything we can do, but a lot more of it and a lot faster. So it could generate a great deal of good. Rather than take our jobs, at the very least, it could make our lives easier, freeing us up to follow our passions like, say, marble sculpting. As for the bad, well, based on some very rough estimates, we’re looking at total annihilation.

Thankfully, we can all breathe a sigh of relief because there are a lot of very smart people working on this. They are carefully and sensitively balancing the rapid advancement of AI with safety concerns so that when the robots do take over, it’s not in a nasty, post-apocalyptic 2001: A Space Odyssey / Terminator 2 / Ex Machina / I, Robot / The Matrix kind of way. We’re aiming for a more fun version like in, well, Megan? The Mitchells vs the Machines? That’s about as nice as AI stories get.

The point is that there are extremely competent people in charge of billion dollar companies who are working on this stuff every day, so we’re in safe, stable hands… is what you could have said before the failed leadership coup at OpenAI demonstrated how that is absolutely not the case and we are all in big trouble. 

But what specifically scares us about AI? Here are just a few of our fears…

“’Starring An AI’ Is A Black Mirror Episode, Not A Goal”

Merryana Salem:

Look, AI does have its uses. It’s handy in a pinch for summarising information or tips for where to get started on research. But replacing human beings? Hell, no. 

This year, we witnessed the actors and writers in Hollywood go on strike, in part, because studios were trying to use AI to squeeze them out of work. We learned that studios were pressuring actors to have their likenesses scanned so they could be CGI’d into projects without compensation. We also learned that the studios were attempting to replace writers with AI. 

But Hollywood isn’t the only industry trying to substitute AI for human workers. Earlier this year, the CEO of News Corp Australia bragged about using AI to write thousands of regional news stories.

Even more sinister is the use of AI to create propaganda content. In October, an Israeli activist created a deep fake of Palestinian-American model Bella Hadid, who is pro-Palestine, showing support for Israel. And Venezuelan state media has been using AI-generated videos of news anchors from a nonexistent international channel to spread pro-government messages. 

Many institutions clearly see AI as a tool to replace human labour and save money, and to wield influence. But that’s not AI’s fault. It’s capitalist greed. “Written, directed by and starring an AI” is the set-up of a Black Mirror episode, not a goal.

“I’m Not Sure I Fully Understand What AI Is, If I’m Being Real With You”

Talecia Vescio: 

Last night when I was doing a tarot reading with a friend under the full moon in Gemini, the Alexa in my loungeroom started telling me every fact she knew about the moon. To be fair, she had a lot of facts, but here’s the thing… I didn’t actually ask her for her thoughts and feelings. Which scares me. It freaks me out a bit that from an undisclosed point in time when Alexa heard us say something that sounded vaguely like her name, she started listening. How did we not notice? What did she hear?

I’m not sure I fully understand what AI is, if I’m being real with you. I’m not even sure Alexa is AI. I’m just assuming that she is because she’s made from an intelligent program that was made artificially. And according to the Google search I just did to confirm, it’s looking like I’m on the money. So if that’s true, that means that all of those voice assistants like Siri and Google Home are also AI, and they’re just part of people’s lives now.

I use Siri every time I drive to write notes to myself because this ADHD brain is on constant hyperspeed and in the 13 minutes it takes me to drive to work, I have thoughts! Thoughts that need to be popped into the Notes app! But is that the end of their journey? Where else is Siri putting those thoughts? Who else has them? You?

The only other thing I really know about AI is “bot comments” which are just fucking annoying.

“I’m Worried People Will Place More Value In AI Than Human Emotion”

Ky Stewart: 

I’ve never bought into any of the panic over AI taking everyone’s jobs, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sit in the back of my mind. Now that AI development is advancing at such a rapid rate and more publishers are using it to churn out content, I must admit that panic is seeping in a tad. 

While I don’t think AI could ever replace my job per se, I do think that AI will undermine it. Who will actively seek out a real journalist when they can have information fed to them in an instant? Better yet, who will employ journalists when they can just have a machine? 

I’m choosing to believe that there’s a place for AI to create lists and rankings like “Best Shows On Netflix” because those are a chore to produce. I just hope that there is a place for journalists and reporters to create meaningful and substantial pieces that interrogate and make sense of the world around us. Human journalists will always create far better content than AI ever will. 

However, I worry that society will go full throttle towards AI replacing journalists and reporters because it’s cheaper and the traffic would be bright and flashy. But I do think that society will soon realise that the human experience is irreplaceable and emotion is what fuels journalism. But by that point, will it be too late? 

“I’m Not Scared Of AI, I’m Scared Of Corporate Greed”

Lia Kim:

When I first came across the term “solarpunk”, I almost cried. While I love me a good dystopian sci-fi story, I tend to be much more optimistic in real life. Of course, that’s not nearly as dramatic as questioning whether Harrison Ford is a replicant or not, or Neo taking the red pill, or HAL’s unblinking red gaze. I love the way these kinds of stories make me think, but they’re not quite me. (Why I even feel the need to define myself in relation to my favourite films and TV shows is another question for another time.) Then I discovered solarpunk.

Solarpunk is a vision of the future where technology and nature are in complete harmony. Climate change is solved, or at least actively being resolved, everything is eco-friendly and sustainable, and life is good. The solarpunk aesthetic is bright and cheerful, and I always imagine it to be like a futuristic Ghibli film, with creative robotic machines working alongside humans, and everything is adorable.  

All that to say that AI itself doesn’t scare me. It’s the way that humans will probably use AI to raise their bottom line that scares me. I’m sure it’s already being used in some capacity to help with some of our critical social issues like wealth inequality, or climate change, or medicine. But instead, it feels like it’s overwhelmingly being used to decrease labour costs, replace expensive human creativity, and maximise profits. And that’s not as fun. 

“I’m Sure We’re All Looking Forward To Being Tried And Sentenced By The Prison Packer 5000”

Nick Bhasin:

For me, it’s hard to choose just one thing that scares me most about AI. I tend to be pretty scared of life in general, so all the dizzying uncertainty makes me extremely paranoid, almost clinically so. 

How I normally deal with a potential problem of this magnitude is to just ignore it and hope it goes away. Stick my head in the sand. Put my fingers in my ears and shout, “I can’t hear you!” over and over again. But I agreed to contribute to this story, so I’m forced to face my AI fears, which are as follows:

The idea of trying to teach robots right from wrong. Good luck.

These very upsetting robot drawings.

The robots that are watching us at all times. Sounds fine?

All these racist robots.

These Google Assistants having an argument, a chilling pre-cursor to the inevitable Robot Wars of 2031.

This robot that reads bedtime stories with the fake voice of Jimmy Stewart, an actor who passed away a long time ago. No thanks.

The robots writing this guy’s books and these books, which are apparently not being read by robots, but by people. 

These pillows. (Those aren’t pillows. They’re robots.)

These robots that will more efficiently work you through the legal system. Can’t see anything wrong with that! I’m sure we’re all looking forward to being tried and sentenced by the Prison Packer 5000.

This robot that designed 40,000 chemical weapons.

This other robot that can pack your suitcase — for a one-way trip to the apocalypse. See you there soon.

Image: Netflix