What happens when robots and machines are smarter than us?

MarvinI’ve written a number of blogs that look at the issues around our (that is human) relationship with ever smarter machine intelligences and it continues to be a subject that fascinates me.  I think it an area in science fiction that is perhaps under explored.  Just blogging about it has given me several ideas for future books looking at the potential conflicts that might arise between a human biological, intelligence and sentient machine intelligences.

Now one obvious scenario given the pace at which computing power is increasing and the increasingly complex tasks that computers can take on is that at some point they will become smarter than us.  For me that means that they will take on the attributes that we associate with true intelligence, not just being able to ‘compute’.  We will have machines with artificial intelligence.  Although as a stated in a previous blog, what does that mean?  Surely if you are measuring intelligence, intelligence is intelligence?  Traditionally, we mean intelligence that is non biological, although again I see that as a boundary that will be increasingly blurred.  Anyway if we accept that they will become ‘intelligent’ then we must accept that they will have the capacity to become smarter than us, however we define ‘smart’.

Now how scary is that?  And I’m asking it as a genuine question, not, ‘HOW SCARY IS THAT!’.  We’ve had a number of nightmare answers to that scenario where machines take over because they can – ‘The Matrix’ for one where the only value humans have to them is as a source of energy.  There are others where those ‘machines’ take over to save us from ourselves, but it never seems to work out well.

In most recent science fiction I’ve read machines and machine intelligences take a back seat role.  The status quo is maintained with us humans clearly running the show, deciding everything, piloting the spaceships etc.  My own ‘far future’ book ‘Ancestral Dreams’ hints at some sort of backlash, with mixed opinions on AI’s, although the main character’s ship is ‘intelligent’ but still very much in the ‘servant’ role.   The more I think about it the less sure I am about that view of the future.  Perhaps the more intelligent machines are the more they must play a part in at least designing those future worlds, building them and running the increasingly complex machinery in those worlds.  Also, surely, intelligent machines will build other even more intelligent machines.  The genie is out of the box and we can’t stuff it back in.  Something of this is seen in Iain M Bank’s ‘Culture’ stories where machine and human intelligence co-exist side by side.  Perhaps even more interesting is that some of these intelligences choose to shut themselves off from interaction with humans, although there is nothing malevolent in it.

As I said in the beginning I think this is an area of science fiction that is under explored.  what I see as the inevitable rise of the intelligent machine and our, human, relationship with them.   Perhaps because it is an uncomfortable relationship to face up to?  We like to see ourselves as being masters of our own destiny.  What I’m suggesting is that we may have to share that destiny with our own creations.   I don’t think it’s an easy book to write, but I’ll give it a try.  I’ll keep you posted.

Of course, having written this blog someone will now point out a stream of books covering this topic – I hope so, I want to read them.

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

If you have a view on this, let me know: