An Essay on the Popular Perception of Artificial Intelligence
The concept of artificial beings is literally as old as civilization. The Ancient Greeks included in their mythology golden handmaidens constructed by the Olympian god of fire and metal, Hephaestus. They were intelligent and discerning beings that helped Hephaestus with his work. There’s also the great bronze statue Telos, who patrolled the beaches of Crete, defending the island kingdom. Examples exist in East Asian and Northern European mythology as well. These myths and legends demonstrate that humans are intrinsically attracted to and fascinated by the concept of intelligence and life, both artificial and natural.
It was during the Enlightenment that some of the myths began to come to life, in the form of automatons. These mechanical contraptions captivated the minds of Europe, as devices such as the Digesting Duck and the Mechanical Turk imitated life and intelligence, respectively (scans, but mechanically brilliant scams). The automatons incited not fear, but excitement, since the Zeitgeist was one of wonderment and open-mindedness. In a time of great achievement, the automatons were one of many modern marvels, and were not viewed as dangerous by the population.
The first popularization of science as dangerous was in Mary Shelly’s novel, Frankenstein, which portrayed the scientist Frankenstein in his misguided attempt to create life. The product of his efforts turns on him, from which follows the rest of the novel. A similar theme of “man makes machine, machine doesn’t like man, machine kills man” is found in the play that first used the word “robot”, Karel ?apek’s play Rossum’s Universal Robots, in which mechanical beings are mass-produced my humans to do manual labor. The robots come to resent their drudgery, and rise up against humanity. This perception or artificial beings as being evil and dangerous continued to develop into the mid-twentieth century, whith various sci-fi comics and films revolving around killer robots.
It was only with the writings of Isaac Asimov that a less emotional view of robots was popularized, in the series of short stories, I, Robot. In I, Robot, robots are viewed as simply very complex machines that sometimes break down, as the robots attempt to apply their hard-coded “Three laws” to the increasingly bizarre situations that humans place them int. From this point on, robots are usually popularized as dangerous, but in more recent films AI’s are portrayed in a more nuanced way. In The Matrix, there are both good and bad programs, in Terminator, the cyborg assassins fight both for and against humans. In the movie I, Robot, the robots are evil, but only because they think they’re saving humans from themselves, and one robot develops unusually human characteristics.