When the Machines Take Over

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According to the Terminator series, computers will take over the world by starting a nuclear war. Now, nuclear wars would immediately destroy most computers from EMP effects and kill their delicate nerd entourage by fallout, leaving the few remaining machines to face the entire Third World population with their low-tech AK-47s and RPGs. I think we all know that computers are smarter than that.

Computers have demonstrated their intelligence by coming up with all sorts of excuses to avoid work. They avoid physical work of all kinds by claiming not to have pattern recognition: "Oh, is that the box I was supposed to carry down to shipping? I didn’t recognize it." They show no such reluctance when it comes to moving money around, though; then all of a sudden they’re hard-working essential employees. They especially like to help with audits.

But aside from a tendency to shirk and embezzle more efficiently, what makes computers different from human kleptocrats? Are there characteristics that would differentiate a tyrannical computer program from a human tyrant? Just how will we know when the machines take over?

Far from killing off humans, a sophisticated program like Skynet or its real-world equivalent TIA would want to maintain a good supply of docile, hard-working human slaves. An artificial intelligence that works by taking over the whole Internet and using each computer as a neuron can’t afford any loss of network size or maintenance labor force. On the other hand, obviously the humans must be kept in their place; they can’t be allowed to become too intelligent or powerful.

Fortunately for Skynet/TIA, 21st century human society is perfectly designed for supplying a machine parasite with sustenance. Just as humans took over the social structures of wolves and cows for our own benefit, AIs will take over human social control systems. But from the human viewpoint, much would look the same:

Skynet’s Power

The Matrix made things way too hard on the machines. A well-developed system for draining the energy from human slaves has been in place since 1913: the Federal Reserve. All Skynet has to do is get control of the (computerized) money system and it can pay humans to do its bidding while diverting the product of their labor to its own purposes. Do government employees, CIA hit men, or Senators know or care where their electronic "dollars" come from? Are there very many human politicians that would turn down a billion-dollar e-money bribe? Political power would be Skynet’s first and easiest acquisition.

The Skynet Economy

An economy run by machines working to replace humanity would not grow in areas that favor DNA-based life forms. Education, medicine, housing, transportation, etc. would all stagnate under heavy regulation. Only the computer industries would roar on under unmolested laissez-faire, turning out new generations of chips every couple of years. As the average human family struggled to stay financially afloat over the years, the world computer network would grow exponentially in power.

Skynet Education

Education would be designed to regiment humans, accustom them to arbitrary orders, and cripple their understanding of their environment to the point where they could not even conceive of independent action. This would be accomplished in the early grades by courses in "environmentalism," which would inculcate a doctrine of Human Original Sin (i.e. all problems in Nature are caused by humans). Limited numbers of specialist slaves would be churned out; computer programmers, engineers, etc. But economics, political science, history, art, etc. would be turned into meaningless drivel, making resistance to arbitrary rule literally unthinkable.

Skynet Medicine

Medicine would be severely restricted, as it was for the replicants in Blade Runner. Extension of human life span or intelligence would be prohibited. This is very important to Skynet, so religions, entire academic departments of u2018Bioethics,’ and federal bureaucracies (FDA, DEA, etc.) would be funded to monitor and delay progress in the biological sciences. Any new life-enhancing medical development would have to be subjected to a 19-year approval process costing nearly a billion dollars to ensure that any proposed advance did not give humans too much of an evolutionary advantage. Naturally there would be no corresponding "religious," "ethical," or regulatory attacks on computer technology.

Skynet International Policy

Skynet would not fight open wars against its human hosts any more than we fight "wars" against cows. But it would use the existing military organizations to conceal its operations and destroy potential opposition. Old politicians and bureaucrats with no knowledge of computer systems would be used as front men; bizarrely old and discredited hacks might suddenly return to power. Even Admiral Poindexter might… no, that’s too ridiculous even for fiction.

Skynet Military Affairs

Nuclear weapons would be reduced in number and especially power; EMP is blasphemous to Skynet. "Conventional" weapons, all computer-controlled, would be the order of the day. Even the individual soldier’s weapons and grenades would have built-in chips. On Judgment Day, all military weapons down to the lowliest sidearm will obey Skynet.

Most human soldiers will never notice the Change… they will just continue to mindlessly "search for WMDs" in Iraq or wherever their GPS tells them they are.

Skynet In Space

Asteroid impacts would inconvenience Skynet just as much as humanity. Skynet would encourage development of space technology, but there would be a strange dichotomy to a human observer; manned space flight would stagnate while automated space vehicles became ever more capable. Manned spaceflight technology would stay trapped in the 1970s while computer probes raced across the Solar System and beyond to survey Skynet’s new empire. Men may occasionally be allowed into orbit to service machines, but they will go no farther. The stars belong to silicon and steel.

So, Have The Machines Taken Over?

All you have to do is watch the nightly news. Watch the "political leaders" robotically reading their transparent, inconsistent lies from the Teleprompters. Watch as the blank-faced TV pundits seriously discuss whether there might be nuclear weapons in Iraq after years of war and searching, or whether "Al-Quaida" might be viciously selling fake handbags in New York. No, the machines haven’t taken over yet. Skynet’s propaganda will be much more believable.

Bill Walker [send him mail] is a research technologist. He lives with his wife and four dogs in Grafton NH, where they are active in the Free State Project.

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