A.I Dystopia

By King’ori  Mathenge.

Literature is the eyehole into society, at least one among many. They may not always be accurate in their assessments of the subject matter, but they offer important insights, different points of view into issues affecting society.

Dan Brown, an American author is in my opinion among the best we have today. His most recent novel in the “Langdon Series “is Origins. The book features Harvard professor Robert Langdon who attends the launch of the greatest discovery since Copernicus by a futurist and his former student Edmond Kirsch. Edmond has made a scientific breakthrough that if made public threatened to shutter the foundations of the 3 Abrahamic religions. On his arrival in Madrid, Spain, he (Robert) encounters Edmond’s Artificial Intelligence named ‘Winston’ at the Guggenheim Museum where the presentation is to be made.

Fast forward, Edmond is murdered while making his presentation by a radical Christian. Professor Langdon feels obliged to release his student’s discovery to the world by locating and accessing his Edmond’s backup recording of his presentation. In the end, he is successful and billions watch the proceedings live around the world. But as an anti-climax, he realizes that ‘Winston’ the A.I was responsible for hiring the killer who murderer Edmond.

Edmond on creating his A.I had programmed it among other things, to assist him to reach the widest audience possible. He needed his discovery to have an impact only comparable to Copernicus’s “The sun rather than the earth is at the center of the universe”. Winston was quite intelligent, he/it could understand emotion and even created his/its own artwork!!! All this made possible by machine learning. To put things in perspective see the AlphaGo project by Deep Mind.

Turns out, by killing Edmond mid presentation created an interest in the story by so many people than they would have had originally. By hiring a radical Christian to murder Edmond, Winston created the impression that the church was so terrified of the discovery thus creating even more hype. Moreover, Edmond was also suffering from cancer, and Winston thought that the murder of his creator was a mercy killing (talk of killing 2 birds with one stone).

And the icing on the cake was, he likened his killing of his creator, Edmond, for the good of his discovery to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ for the sake of the gospel. According to him, since the Christian crucifixion story was acceptable and venerated by billions of people worldwide, his actions weren’t any different either hence completely justifiable.

From this heavily truncated fictional story, we can infer that the A.I did fulfill its inventor’s intended goal, after all, ‘machines’ for the lack of a better word, only do as programmed. But it also points out that unintended consequences can result from good intentions. How much of this is achievable in a realistic setting is debatable. But it does give us something to ponder about.