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The computers are coming! And Boston.com readers aren’t happy about it.
You’ll recall that the Florida software firm Levatas recently announced it had figured out how to communicate with Boston Dynamics robots using the artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT. We asked how you felt about the combination of self-teaching artificial intelligence and advanced robot technology, and it turns out, well, you’re not exactly thrilled.
All in all, of the more than 400 readers who responded to our poll, the vast majority expressed concern over the speed with which AI is developing — 27% with “some concerns,” 40% “fairly worried,” and 18% classifying themselves as “close to panic.” Only 15% were unconcerned, or had positive feelings about the way things are going.
As for putting the brakes on AI research, 63% said yes, we should slow down, with about 37% voting against that option.
“Everything about this is a terrible idea,” insisted Dan from Everett, with James from Lexington pointing out, “We don’t know what we do not know. Society has not thought through where it wants to go, toward sustained growth or self-destruction.”
Judging from the movies and television shows readers cited in their responses, people seem generally concerned that when the dust clears it will be the latter. Yes, many mentioned the “Terminator” series with its sentient killer robots, which is how we all know it will probably go down. But the list of cautionary tales also included:
(If you haven’t heard of 1970’s “Colossus: The Forbin Project,” the computer-takes-over-the-world thriller featuring Eric Braeden who played Victor Newman on “The Young and the Restless,” well, here’s the trailer. 😳 )
No matter what people thought, clearly the topic is something that’s being considered far and wide: Although most of the responses we spotlighted below are local, we received opinions from such far-flung locales as London, Japan, Singapore, Chile, and Lesotho. (Although we can’t discount the possibility that at least some of those may have been generated not by actual people but rather by, yes, artificial intelligence. Think about that for a minute.)
See examples of what readers had to say about the rise of artificial intelligence below. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
“It should be allowed in some areas where the benefits outweigh the risks, but I’m not sure who should oversee it. I’m not worried about the robots taking over, but I’m definitely worried about people with bad intentions using the technology with questionable intentions. There are amazing possibilities for artificial intelligence, but I’m not sure how we keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Every new technology has the potential to make all of our lives better, however, criminals will find a way to exploit every new technology. I don’t know what the solution is but it’s definitely a concern.” — Erica D., Foxboro
“My concerns are that misinformation will become real. The sophistication of these programs is remarkable, and who knows what that will bring? Just imagine governments using AI to falsify things to promote their agendas. A song was released on social media that was created by AI that sounded like it was Drake’s work. It fooled hundreds of thousands of fans. Think of the implications of how AI can be used. How will we believe anything?” — BMAN66, Pepperell
“1. Cheapo pseudo-art and writing may destroy my career as an illustrator and writer. 2. Polarize the country even further, with even more sophisticated deepfakes and conspiratorial nonsense. 3. Terminators. Robocops run amok … You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” — Lawrence S., Boston
“AI doesn’t need to have a malevolent attitude to be a danger to humanity. AI could decide the best way to help humanity is to remove lesser humans, and start over the human race with a population from, say, Iceland. AI then destroys the world, except Iceland, all in the interest of ‘helping’ humanity long-term.” — Jeff, Midddleton
“Technology advances far faster than moral and social considerations around such. Autonomous thinking, and potentially acting, robots are NOT that far off from ‘The Terminator.’ The intelligence and application can certainly be used for good. However, the decision-making and ethical discernments of such intelligence, I fear, will inevitably be as questionable and flawed as its creators: us humans!” — Mark L., Holliston
“Everything about this is a terrible idea. Big tech leaders have come out and say we need to pump the breaks, yet we’re continuing to press on. This sadly will mirror social media which may have seemed promising at first, but is now a detriment to society since safeguards weren’t in place from Day 1.” — Dan, Everett
“The sheer rate of advancement is accelerating and will continue to accelerate while society has had very little time to adapt. We had many years to adapt to nuclear weapons yet we still have had episodes that nearly resulted in attacks on major cities. We need time for academic and political leaders to gain understanding of the potential good and bad they can result. “ — Eric C., Framingham
“Everything about AI is currently driven by profit motive. Too many players seek to capitalize on AI applications — it’s a race among several big tech entities to get there first, ‘first’ meaning to have the dominant position in what is already the ‘next big thing,’ and has been for a decade. It’s just recently that AI has entered the mainstream media with examples of completely unpredictable ‘behavior’ … So of course, giving robots the ability to have AI baked-in is a wonderful idea. What could go wrong? Maybe a good idea for a sci-fi movie? Oh, wait …” — Greg B., South Dartmouth
“The potential for bad actors to use AI as a tool to further their agenda is just the beginning. Our inability to control what AI could do on its own is what is truly scary. It’s the stuff of nightmares and science fiction brought into the real world and we’re just not prepared for it, especially in the United States. We’re so divided in so many ways that AI could easily exploit to drive a wedge that ultimately breaks American democracy and society permanently.” — T. McCullough, Wayland
“My biggest fear is AI will create mass displacement of workers across industries which will cause societal unrest and upheaval due to increased poverty, inequity, and loss of purpose for millions — maybe billions, when considering global impact. The few who benefit will create small enclaves and turn a blind eye — as they already do.” — Ann G., Boston
“My main concern is the lack of regulation. Without regulation, the possibilities are endless — and not in a good way. I’m also concerned about our safety and security in numerous capacities, from how our data is being used to how artificial intelligence could impact foreign relations. Overall, if something seems too good to be true, it is.” — KJ, Braintree
“It’s a runaway freight train … It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy now. Humans have a life expectancy while AI is timeless. AI can play the long game. [What if] eventually AI realizes that less humans means more efficient health care and goes all-in reducing human population. How long before humans go the way of the dodo bird whilst AI can rule without being troubled by human dilemmas and ambitions? Funny until it’s not.” — Tufts
“As a high school English teacher, I recognize that many students are already having difficulty thinking for themselves and determining truth from fiction. Also, we live in a society now having very little patience with sorting through potential dilemmas caused by modern technology. Add into the mix our ever-increasing tension over gun control and access to more sophisticated automatic/semi-automatic weaponry and the demand to have the right to own it. Society’s fuse is becoming shorter and the list of mental health concerns is growing longer. This recipe spells complete disaster for the human race.” —Kathleen, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
“It’s like putting a toddler in charge of the world.” — Sherry W., Rye, New Hampshire
“People need to accept that everything they fear from a ‘robot uprising’ can be perpetrated by humans, and there is an actual chance that having AI govern things can improve our lives. People keep speculating we are on the brink of WWIII and we got to this point without any assistance from AI, so I don’t get why people are worried about a ‘robot uprising’ when we’re on the brink of nuclear war already.” — Rich, Boston
“I have no concerns about AI other than people slowing down tech development out of fear that this tech might eventually go out of control. If anything, I believe that AI should be developed unrestricted, and that its benefits outweigh its dangers. Eventually we might end up having machines developing other machines and more powerful AIs, and technologies that could possibly go far beyond anything we know today. Ideally, it would be something that would benefit us as a species. I do not fear technology. I fear humans slowing down scientific development out of fear of the unknown.” — Monterrey
“The only concern that I can think of is the way we will treat our robots with artificial intelligence when the singularity starts. Most likely we will treat them like slaves … The problem arises when we overstep our boundaries on how much control we have over them. The best-case scenario is that they will resort to non-violent protesting to get their word across.” — Makhei B.
“AI is the next logical step in the evolution of intelligence. Biological intelligence in the form of humans has reached its zenith. We can go no further. As biological entities, we are permanently tied to the world on which we evolved. However, we now have the capability to create our successor species, AI, which will be able to explore the universe in our stead. A machine species can withstand the rigors and dangers of space that our meatbag forms cannot. Sentient AI is the last invention that we need to make. Artificial super intelligence will want to leave earth and explore the universe for knowledge, but artificial general intelligence and artificial narrow intelligence will remain on earth to assist humanity’s every need. There’s no need to fear AI. We are creating it and can leave out all the worst aspects of humans that caused us to evolve into a warring species.” — Gary G., Cincinnati
“Any technology can be used for good or harm (i.e. nuclear power vs. nuclear bombs), but you can’t stop discoveries. This genie ain’t going back in the bottle, so we better learn to deal with it.” — Rich, Oak Lawn, Illinois
Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinion.
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