More than three decades after blowing up theaters, James Camerons Terminator 2: Judgment Day it remains not only a cinematic milestone but also a prophetic vision for some, including star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who believe the sci-fi blockbuster may have spurred the evolution of modern artificial intelligence.
Sequel to Cameron’s 1984 action classic Saw released July 3, 1991 Schwarzenegger’s return as a T-800 cybernetic organism (a machine comprising both organic and biomechatronic body parts) sent back in time from a future where an AI defense network called Skynet has become self-aware and promptly initiates nuclear war to wipe out humanity.
The T-800’s mission: to protect a young John Connor (Edward Furlong), the future leader of the human resistance, from a more advanced Terminator, the shape-shifting T-1000 (Robert Patrick), sent to assassinate the teenager. Along with John’s mother, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the trio set out to destroy Skynet in present-day 1991 before it’s too late.
The plot might have seemed far-fetched 30 years ago, but with the rise of machine learning platforms like ChatGPT, TensorFlow, and PyTorch, we couldn’t help but wonder: How close is modern AI to becoming Skynet?
Here’s what some of the leading minds in artificial technology had to say.
Where did Skynet go wrong?
As depicted in the film, Skynet is an artificial intelligence system created for the US military designed to control the nation’s nuclear arsenal and defense network, enabling faster and more efficient responses to international military threats. However, once the system develops the ability to learn and improve on itself, it becomes self-aware. When its creators try to deactivate it, Skynet sees humanity as an enemy and decides to trigger a nuclear holocaust to eliminate the threat.
According to AI experts, Skynet has done exactly what it was designed to do: eliminate threats. Faced with the possibility of extinction, the system went into survival mode, similar to what a human or other organism would do. And because its creators designed Skynet with virtually no ethical limitations, the system, as designed, sought to eradicate the enemy.
That won’t happen any time soon, he assures Yulin Wang, a technology analyst at IDTechEx who specializes in robotics, who says industry leaders see such textures as examples of what Not Do.
Some movies, like T2, indirectly helped drive the establishment of regulations surrounding the use and commercialization of artificial intelligence, he tells Yahoo Entertainment. This is one of the impacts on society caused by science fiction films.
In fact, Elon Musk and tech leaders have argued for a pause in the development of systems that surpass the capabilities of ChatGPT-4 [the latest model]. In May, ChatGPT founder Sam Altman spoke to Congress about considering similar measures, while the European Union set up a commission in June focused on AI regulations.
Considering the rapid evolution of technology that surpasses any other historical precedent, the development of AI can progress rapidly, Wang says. It is not inconceivable to predict the emergence of a system comparable in complexity to Skynet within the next two decades.
Can artificial intelligence turn against us?
Jrgen Schmidhubera German computer scientist often referred to as the father of modern AI, says the last thing AI systems want is to harm humans for now.
Hollywood likes AIs that enslave humans. It’s silly, he tells Yahoo Entertainment. A super intelligent AI that can rapidly build superhuman robots to fulfill all of its goals will not be interested in enslaving humans, just like humans are not interested in enslaving cacti.
To that end, he admits, scientists are creating machines so advanced they will eventually require strict regulations to limit their reach. One thing is certain, though: Today’s machines are built to help humans, not replace them.
My lab has published AIs based on artificial neural networks that don’t just slavishly mimic humans, they have their own goals, he says. Like children and scientists, they invent their own experiments to understand how the world works and what can be done in it. Without this freedom, they wouldn’t become ever more generic problem solvers.
Alex J. Champandardmastermind behind the largest online hub for AI games, AiGameDev.com, who worked for years as a senior AI programmer at Rockstar, says the depiction of machines in movies and video games can skew public perceptions of the technology .
“T2 has significantly influenced the direction of AI research,” he says. “There is a strong irrational fear of [AI], but real life is not so dramatic. It turns out the Terminator will just take our jobs.”
What did he do T2 be right about artificial intelligence?
Unlike previous decades, autonomous systems and weapons now have the ability to select and engage targets without human intervention, similar to scenes in T2 where the Terminators use tools like facial recognition to spot allies and enemies in a crowd. They gain further knowledge about their environment using sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell just like humans do.
AS Wang explains that similar humanoids are being developed by Tesla as well as companies in Japan, Saudi Arabia and China. But endowing them with human qualities, like that of the Terminator, remains a challenge.
Humans are known to possess inherent flaws, including behaviors like lying and cheating, he says. If these negative human traits were to be learned by robots with immensely powerful computational and physical capabilities, the consequences could indeed be dire. Conversely, if robots were to acquire and appropriately use positive characteristics such as friendliness, helpfulness and kindness, the potential benefits to society would be truly remarkable and beyond imagination.
Also, tools and gadgets in the film that might have seemed pure science fiction at the time are quite common today, Wang notes. This includes unmanned vehicles and drones that operate remotely or autonomously, as well as autonomous surveillance systems, cybersecurity, and command/control systems that process real-time data to enhance human decision-making, all showcased by Schwarzenegger in the film.
Such inventions are a testament to the imagination of science-fiction-inspired designers, Champandard acknowledges, but it’s important to know that machines don’t come up with new ideas by themselves. They need a little help from us.
AI learning today is done by ingesting large amounts of data and learning from it in bulk, he says. It’s not very humane, but it can serve as a substitute. So instead of learning on the fly, AI systems can simply recall past situations from the training data and use that.
Can artificial intelligence develop consciousness?
It is important to differentiate consciousness from intelligence, Schmidhuber points out. Consciousness, which is unreachable by machines, is a state of self-awareness, while intelligence is an ability to learn, understand, and ultimately apply that knowledge to adapt to new situations.
Still, we’re getting close to AIs becoming as sophisticated as human scientists, he says, noting that computing is getting 10 times cheaper every few years.
The 21st century will see cheap computers with a thousand times the computational power of all human brains combined, he continues. Soon there will be millions, billions and trillions of such devices. Almost all intelligence will be outside the human brain.
That might sound daunting, but Schmidhuber says the amount of intelligence gained inside various gadgets and machines will help us perform mundane tasks more efficiently.
AI will continue to make human lives longer, healthier and easier, he says. AI will likely play a much more prominent role in future society than it does now. Expect more interactions with machines and automated systems.
ItIt is the people who are the greatest enemies of the people
Machines declaring war on humans is a terrifying thought, but experts say we shouldn’t let science fiction movies dissuade us from exploring the potential of AI.
Due to limited knowledge of underlying technology and the influence of entertainment media, there is a sense of apprehension about AI development, Wang says. The current state of AI is far from resembling the fictional Skynet system.
Unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger’s films, there won’t be many direct conflicts between us and them. Schmidhuber predicts. Humans and others are mostly interested in similar beings with whom they share goals, such that they have a reason to compete and/or collaborate.
Just as humans are primarily interested in other humans, super intelligent AIs will be primarily interested in other super intelligent AIs, he continues. It’s people who are people’s greatest enemies, but also their best friends. Similar for self-guided AIs. In the long run, humans will be protected to some extent by AI’s lack of interest in humans.
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