Perspective | Published:

Hopes and fears for intelligent machines in fiction and reality

Abstract

This paper categorizes some of the fundamental hopes and fears expressed in imaginings of artificial intelligence (AI), based on a survey of 300 fictional and non-fictional works. The categories are structured into four dichotomies, each comprising a hope and a parallel fear, mediated by the notion of control. These are: the hope for much longer lives (‘immortality’) and the fear of losing one’s identity (‘inhumanity’); the hope for a life free of work (‘ease’), and the fear of becoming redundant (‘obsolescence’); the hope that AI can fulfil one’s desires (‘gratification’), alongside the fear that humans will become redundant to each other (‘alienation’); and the hope that AI offers power over others (‘dominance’), with the fear that it will turn against us (‘uprising’). This Perspective further argues that these perceptions of AI’s possibilities, which may be quite detached from the reality of the technology, can influence how it is developed, deployed and regulated.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

References

  1. 1.

    Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence AI in the UK: Ready, Willing and Able? (House of Lords, 2018).

  2. 2.

    Fast, E. & Horvitz, E. Long-term trends in the public perception of artificial intelligence. Preprint at https://arxiv.org/abs/1609.04904 (2016).

  3. 3.

    Johnson, D. G. & Verdicchio, M. Reframing AI discourse. Minds Mach. 27, 575–590 (2017).

  4. 4.

    Baum, S. Superintelligence skepticism as a political tool. Information 9, 209 (2018).

  5. 5.

    Mayor, A. Gods and Robots: The Ancient Quest for Artificial Life. (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, 2018).

  6. 6.

    Truitt, E. R. Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art. (Univ. Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2015).

  7. 7.

    LaGrandeur, K. Androids and Intelligent Networks in Early Modern Literature and Culture: Artificial Slaves. (Routledge, New York, 2013).

  8. 8.

    Kang, M. Sublime Dreams of Living Machines: The Automaton in the European Imagination. (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2011).

  9. 9.

    Wood, G. Edison’s Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life. (Anchor Books, New York, 2002).

  10. 10.

    Čapek, K. R.U.R. (Aventinum, Prague, 1920).

  11. 11.

    Cave, S., Coughlan, K. & Dihal, K. ‘Scary robots’: examining public responses to AI. in Proc. AIES http://www.aies-conference.com/wp-content/papers/main/AIES-19_paper_200.pdf (2019).

  12. 12.

    McCarthy, J., Minsky, M. L., Rochester, N. & Shannon, C. E. A proposal for the Dartmouth summer research project on artificial intelligence. AI Mag. 27, 12–14 (Winter, 2006).

  13. 13.

    Boden, M. A. AI: Its Nature and Future (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2016).

  14. 14.

    Radcliffe, A. On the supernatural in poetry. New Mon. Mag. 7, 145–152 (1826).

  15. 15.

    Dinello, D. Technophobia! Science Fiction Visions of Posthuman Technology (Univ. Texas Press, Austin, 2005).

  16. 16.

    Noble, D. F. The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention (Penguin, New York, 1999).

  17. 17.

    Hall, D. & Williams, C. Big Hero 6 (Disney, 2014).

  18. 18.

    Gruman, G. J. A History of Ideas About the Prolongation of Life (Springer, New York, 2003).

  19. 19.

    Haycock, D. B. Mortal Coil: A Short History of Living Longer (Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, 2008).

  20. 20.

    Cave, S. Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How it Drives Civilization (Crown, New York, 2012).

  21. 21.

    Geraci, R. M. Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2010).

  22. 22.

    Wilson, T. No Longer Science Fiction, AI and Robotics are Transforming Healthcare (PwC, 2017).

  23. 23.

    Cockerell, J. Scientists use artificial intelligence to predict how cancers evolve and spread. The Independent (2018).

  24. 24.

    Cave, S. in AI Narratives: A History of Imaginative Thinking about Intelligent Machines (eds Cave, S., Dihal, K. & Dillon, S.) (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2020).

  25. 25.

    Kurzweil, R. & Grossman, T. Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever (Rodale, New York, 2004).

  26. 26.

    Kurzweil, R. The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (Penguin, New York, 2000).

  27. 27.

    Joy, B. Why the future doesn’t need us. Wired https://www.wired.com/2000/04/joy-2/ (2000).

  28. 28.

    Harris, O. ‘Be Right Back’. Black Mirror (Channel 4, 2013).

  29. 29.

    Tibbetts, C. ‘White Christmas’. Black Mirror (Channel 4, 2014).

  30. 30.

    Cave, S. & Dihal, K. Ancient dreams of intelligent machines: 3,000 years of robots. Nature 559, 473–475 (2018).

  31. 31.

    Telotte, J. P. Robot Ecology and the Science Fiction Film (Routledge, New York, 2018).

  32. 32.

    Wilcox, F. M. Forbidden Planet (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1956).

  33. 33.

    Williamson, J. With folded hands. Astounding Sci. Fict. 39, 6–45 (1947).

  34. 34.

    Stanton, A. WALL·E (Disney, Pixar, 2008).

  35. 35.

    Kaczynski, T. Industrial society and its future. The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/.../manifesto.text.htm (22 September 1995).

  36. 36.

    Asimov, I. in The Complete Robot 164–187 (HarperCollins, London, 1982).

  37. 37.

    Nolan, J. & Joy, L. Westworld (HBO, 2016).

  38. 38.

    Jonze, S. Her (Sony, 2013).

  39. 39.

    Mori, M. the uncanny valley [from the field]. IEEE Robot. Autom. Mag. 19, 98–100 (2012).

  40. 40.

    Forster, E. M. The Machine Stops (The Oxford and Cambridge Review, London, 1909).

  41. 41.

    Apollonius of Rhodes Argonautica Book IV (ed. Hunter, R.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2015).

  42. 42.

    Banks, I. M. Consider Phlebas. (Macmillan, London, 1987).

  43. 43.

    Heinlein, R. A. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1966).

  44. 44.

    Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence (Executive Office of the President National Science and Technology Council, 2016).

  45. 45.

    Asimov, I. The Caves of Steel (HarperCollins, New York, 1954).

  46. 46.

    Cameron, J. The Terminator (Orion, 1984).

  47. 47.

    Cameron, J. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (TriStar, 1991).

  48. 48.

    Howard, R. Solo: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm, 2018).

  49. 49.

    Asimov, I. The Naked Sun (Doubleday, New York, 1957).

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank S. Dillon, B. Singler and E. R. Truitt for their helpful comments. This work was funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Centre Grant awarded to the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence.

Author information

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Stephen Cave or Kanta Dihal.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Data

    Appendix 1

Rights and permissions

To obtain permission to re-use content from this article visit RightsLink.

About this article