Perspective | Published:

Hopes and fears for intelligent machines in fiction and reality


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.

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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.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Stephen Cave or Kanta Dihal.

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