How computers will take over the world

At Humorix Splatz writes: “Sci-fi writers and Hollywood movie directors have predicted for years that computers will become self-aware and will then immediately proceed to enslave or destroy mankind. Writers always seem to think that artificial intelligence will automatically turn evil just as soon as somebody hits the power switch.”

He retorts: “Oh, please. Computers are only as smart as their designers, and since right now most of the world’s software is designed by the Microsoft Marketing Department, we don’t have much to worry about.”

His piece is a humorous one about DRM. However I’d like to go in a different direction. I claim that computers will indeed take over, and that it is already happening. Well, actually, they will not take over in the usual Sci-fi evil-robot sense, through AI, but that we will actually give them control, of our own free will, and we probably won’t even notice — until it’s too late.

I’m not talking about the classic Sci-fi scenario in which a Dr. Evil character plots to take over the world. The computers don’t have to plot against us. We are doing their bidding for them, all with good intentions. I’ll cite an example: the typical grocery supermarket. If the power goes out, customers cannot buy any products and have to wait in line until the power comes on, even if they have cash to pay. If the computers are down, the store cannot operate, even though there are goods on the shelves and people to buy them. The computers have gained mastery over the human employees and shoppers, without any AI, and without Dr. Evil lifting a finger.

This dependence on computers builds up over time, often without a long-term plan. Various independent projects can sometimes conspire to produce unintended consequences. The humans gradually turn over control in small innocent bits at a time, until one day, they have totally lost control and they don’t know how or when it happened.

I am not a ludite. People gain a great deal from technolgy and have been doing so for a long time. One could make similar arguments to the above about many technologies: electricity, processed foods, the airplane, etc. However, I think it’s important that we be aware of our reliance on computers, understand how it happens, and what the consequences are. Some of the preparations done for Y2K should become routine, such as assessing the risks and dependence on various computer systems, and developing contingencies to deal with outages and downtime. Without doing real studies into the data and gathering informatioin on the interdependencies of various systems, IT managers and technical experts often make assuptions about what the important computers are, which ones need contingency plans and which ones do not. Because these dependencies are often complex, such assuptions are usually wrong. I would suggest that most companies probably do not fully understand or appreciate the degree to which they are dependent on computers (including embedded computers and other intelligent devices). Likewise, and by extension, the average person probably does not appreciate or understand the degree to which they have become dependent on computers and computer systems. It may very well be that a given computer outage could affect their lives in unexpected ways, perhaps to the point of loss of job, loss of property, or perhaps their very basic needs, for instance if suddenly one could not purchase food.

So, the computers don’t have to develop a plan to enslave or destroy mankind. And neither does some evil mastermind. We just let things run their current course, and one day we find ourselves enslaved by computers through our own actions, just as the shopper and employee at the supermarket become enslaved when the manager reports ‘the computer is down.”

21 comments for “How computers will take over the world

  1. Well Patty, one example might be the blackout of the eastern US. It appears that problems with some of the desktop computers used to monitor the power systems may have contributed to the problems that caused the cascading outage. And these PCs weren’t (and still aren’t) considered to be among the ‘critical’ computers used by the power companies.

  2. i agree, mr blog. we surrender control over to computers willingly and ignorantly. For instance, the most basic word program, spell checks may soon know grammar better than most, and programmed thesaurauses provide the best substitutions with a simple click. absolutlely no brain work required. wonderful…

  3. i like computers and stuff and you’re an evil evil person mr. blog, gee willakers if it wern’t for computers i wouldn’t have all my porn!

  4. You do make an interesting point. We rely on computers more than ever before. Remember that your life is in a computer now. Want to buy a house, some new furniture, even a computer? Not until a computer says you can! The human element of trust is certainly lost. Only numbers judge our lives now.

  5. i also believe the human race has allready been taken over by computers humans are smart but getting more and more lazy we dont even have to leave our homes anymore everything can be deliverd directly to our door by sitting on our asses and pressing a button

  6. how can you be sure? Are you sure computers can’t take over the world. I myself don’t beleave it.What about you.

  7. How can computers take over the world if we make them smart, not them. I truely don’t be leave that they could. If someone show’s me proof the i will rethink my answer.But for now i don’t beleave. So that’s that.

  8. computers are dumb and slopw so they can’t take over the world. They cheat at a lot of stuff too. computers are no better than humans. they make just as many mistakes, and thery also have errers.

  9. I beg to differ with people that say computers are dumb.The smartest computer techs are programming computers to reprogram them selves with their own versions of updates(who better than the computer to fight off viruses)the thinking process of a computer has surpassed us.All it takes is one lunatic (as usual)to be in a place of power to link almost all computers.Its already been done. Hope you believe in God

  10. I believe the government has a computer system that is programed to exterminate any threat to mankind. Except the only threat to mankind is ourselves. Its not like nature decided to start global warming unless it wants to commite suicide.

  11. Isn’t this a bit melodramatic?
    “Oh no! There’s no cash register? I guess I can’t buy groceries.” Seriously? You really don’t think someone could grab a sheet of paper and add up the prices? Arithmetic isn’t a use it or lose it skill, and neither is common sense.
    We may become dependent on computers, but if they should fail, there will always be people who know enough to get us back on track… whether that’s with or without computers.

  12. Yes, machines will take over, but more importantly we will become intimately attached to machines and constantly share information back and forth… until essentially we are them and they are us. It’s already begun to happen. To do our jobs or even daily tasks we rely on computer AI whether it be search engines, GPS systems, or other software at work. Gradually computer intelligence will be with us everywhere we go (already begun with the iphone), it will be an intrinsic part of who we are.

    Over the next 40 years or so, the line will blur to the point where human society will become unrecognizable to what it is today. Computers, which will continue to follow Moore’s Law, will have many billions of times more intelligence capacity than all the natural human capacity on the planet combined. It is difficult to predict what life will be like at this point, be it utopia or dystopia. It is likely that death and ignorance will be a thing of the past and the human-machine society will move on to explore and colonize the universe. This will result in what amounts to an intelligence explosion throughout the universe and ultimately a shared self-awareness of all matter.

  13. One word: Borg… If you guys have ever seen Star Trek that is exactly what will happen to us… The computers we create will eventually become better then us and ofcourse we will want that perfection and so we will fuse ourselves… Computers will see our obvious efficiency of using food to process into energy and our simple ways of reproducing and will use that as their body but will use themselves as the brain.

    We are the Borg, you will be assimilated, resistance is futile.

  14. You’re right, we are more dependent now on computers than ever before.
    But how exactly does that mean they will take over the world? If you know what goes on inside a computer, like you suggest people should (hypocrite), you wouldn’t be scared of them turning hostile.
    Computers aren’t sentient beings. They do what we tell them.
    HOWEVER the day we give them the ability to learn, feel, and take action like we can, then we will start to worry.

  15. Actually JayBaby, I’m saying exactly that. People relying on technology does cause us to lose those skills (perhaps not common sense, but common sense won’t help someone in 50 years take on a task that requires specific skills).

    You say “there will always be people who know enough to get us back on track…” and I say not necessarily. Check your history. There are many, once common, skills that have been lost forever.

    To the grocery store situation “You really don’t think someone could grab a sheet of paper and add up the prices?” This exact type of event helped inspire this original post. Computers were down and they could not operate the store – someone was probably technically able to (today), but management forbid it.

    To some degree this whole post was a little tongue in cheek but what I’m really pointing out is that we are already in a bit of a tail wagging the dog situation and it continues to get worse, where common sense no longer runs the day.

  16. Zachary,

    The fact that you cannot spell believe correctly makes me wonder if you are even educated. My first thoughts are that you are 13 years old and speaking without any knowledge of what is actually happening in society.

    Computers are not literally “taking over the world” but instead they are padding our society and giving us the detonator button that causes so much chaos.

    Great Blog Post. One of my favorite topics.


    Everyone here should read the book “Rapture For The Geeks” by Richard Dooling

    The books hook reads as follows:
    “If computers become twice as fast and twice as capable every two years, how long is it before they’re as intelligent as humans? More intelligent? And in two more years, twice as intelligent?”

    Basically Dooling talks about computers “taking over the world”

  17. Computers aren’t taking over the world. Humans are. Computers are tools, tools so versatile that humans have become very dependent on them. I’m interfacing with a computer right now. How else could all of you receive this message thousands of miles away from me? Computers allow us to communicate so much more efficiently. Computers can also preform some tasks MUCH faster than humans can, and more reliably (take mathematical operations for example). Yes, we are dependent on computers, that doesn’t mean they are taking over the world. They aren’t sentient and they have no control over what they do for us. As long as it stays that way, we are safe. They remain the tool, and we remain in control. On the other hand, what is the human race, really? As we infuse technology with the world around us, aren’t we, in fact, infusing it with ourselves? Is our technology already part of who we are? As computers become more reliable, faster, and more powerful, aren’t we ourselves also improving? I think we must embrace this technology, but can we honestly say that what ever comes out of this transformation would still be the human race? If an entity changes, is it really the same entity? Perhaps homo sapiens will completely die out leaving autonomous machines behind. Or perhaps the computers will become so integrated into our lives that we ourselves become indisngisable from the computers. Imagine for example, a homo sapiens brain which has been electromechanically altered so that it’s neurons would use direct electrical connections instead of electrochemical synapses. It would operate A HELL LOT faster than the run-of-the-mill biological brain. And it would have equivalent processing power. Oh my, what could we accomplish as a species with such brains. We should embrace this technology. Period.

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