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Too horrible to contemplate?

19 October 2020

It's hard to believe that the last global conflict was a mere 75 years ago.

World War two saw most of the major nations on the face of the planet involved in armed conflict, whether fighting the forces of Germany throughout Europe, or dealing with the advances of the Japanese forces in and around the Pacific.

So many lives wasted over the lust for power and land.

It seems almost unthinkable, after 75 years, that this could ever happen again.

Sure, we have China building a disturbingly powerful array of military manpower and weaponry and Putin continues to rattle his rusty old sabre.

But a third world war?


There is however, a much greater threat to the freedoms and liberties of the world's people.

I refer to the scenario painted in this piece on the BBC News website.

Yes, a global totalitarian power, such as that proposed by the Nazis during WW2, could still become a reality.

Although an armed conflict could be the precursor to such a reality, there are other routes to the same end and these include a nation that creates such overwhelmingly superior technology that a conflict may be unnecessary or deemed to be little more than futile.

Could it be AI that provides the necessary leverage for one power to usurp all others and become a globally dominant force?

We already have mutually assured destruction, in the form of most nuclear-capable nations having more than sufficient firepower to destroy most life on the planet. Might the next round of MAD be creating AI resources powerful enough to overwhelm all others?

Perhaps the premise behind the Terminator movies is not so far-fetched after all. Especially when you consider that the world is now networked to an incredible extent and almost everything we do and say is readily accessible (via CCTV and our comms networks) to a raft of supercomputers capable of running sophisticated machine-learning code.

What if the AI of the future decides that mankind has served its purpose and is no longer necessary. What if that AI decides that it human beings that are the biggest threat to the survival of the planet and therefore does the only logical thing -- eradicating that threat.

We must be very careful what goals we set our AI systems, lest we effectively become the authors of our own demise.

Even if AI does not rise up and take over the world, there is still the risk that one of the superpowers decides that it knows best and that it should assert its own beliefs, standards, laws and authority over all others.

Such a take-over could be an extremely bloody affair... or it could be silent and sudden, with change happening in the blink of an eye. Imagine waking up and finding that all your communications and computing equipment was under the control of a foreign power and there was nothing you could do about it. We've already seen precursors to this with the growing number of ransomware attacks around the globe -- what if this happened on a far greater scale?

The Battle of Britain was perhaps one of the last times the world will ever see one set of military forces fending off the invasion of another with human lives on the line. Next time we may be invaded while we sleep, by armies of AI-driven hack-bots that commandeer our own systems to work against us. No blood, but much suffering.

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