Why Robots Won't Rule the World

20 Jan 2000

This is a general resource page for arguments against the idea that robots (or some other superintelligent machines) will supersede us as the dominant ``life'' form and take over the world from us. These arguments have received a lot of publicity in the national press of many countries, on TV and radio, and in popular science journals such as Scientific American. I'm surprised that so many well-educated people take the ideas seriously. Since they do, it is worth while explaining why these ideas are silly.

The Dangerous Belief that Robots will Take Over the World

A robot of the 1950s (Gray Walter's Machina Speculatrix)

The rapidly increasing speed and sophistication of computer hardware and software (e.g. in recent years the amount of computer power available per dollar seems to have doubling every year, and in earlier years, every two years) has led many people to worry about the possibility of computers or robots awaking from their mechanical sleep and rising up to pose some kind of threat to the human race, even to the extent of taking over the world and either exterminating us, or keeping us as pets. Not only do I not believe this, I consider it a dangerous argument. It is dangerous in two ways. The first is that, like all the best urban rumours and horror stories, it feeds upon our prejudices and fears to produce a story that many people want to believe. The second is that these kinds of plausible misconceptions can affect public policy towards research and development. In the history of AI that has already happened once (the Lighthill Report, 1973), may have happened twice (the rules of the Alvey Funding Initiative, 1983), and Nicolas Albery of the Institute of Social Inventions is now seeking support for their petition:

``In view of the likelihood that early in the next millennium computers and robots will be developed with a capacity and complexity greater than that of the human brain, and with the potential to act malevolently towards humans, we, the undersigned, call on politicians and scientific associations to establish an international commission to monitor and control the development of artificial intelligence systems.''

A robot of the 2000s (Honda's P3)

This petition was a direct result of a brainstorming session at the Institute of Social Inventions in April 1998 introduced by Professor Kevin Warwick on the basis of his 1997 book The March of the Machines (an earlier edition of In the Mind of the Machine) in which he predicted robots (or superintelligent machines of some kind) forcibly taking over from the human race within the next 50 years.

Papers arguing against the ``robot takeover'' idea

These next three papers are short, medium, and long versions of the same argument, aimed at different publications/readerships, the short being popular and the long being academic.

Academic papers which argue seriously against the``robots will take over'' idea are rather thin on the ground, perhaps because many of those who think the idea silly think it too silly to be worth bothering with. I append an incomplete list of those who have published papers arguing against these ideas. Please email me if you can add to this list.

Chris Malcolm 20 Jan 2000