Throughout history, human beings have been fascinated and fearful of the idea of technology gaining sentience and turning against its creators. While recent advancements in artificial intelligence, such as ChatGPT and self-driving cars, have brought this fear to the forefront of public consciousness, the truth is that these concerns are deeply rooted in ancient myths and legends. From Pandora in ancient Greece to the golem of Prague and Frankenstein’s monster, stories of inanimate creations coming to life have permeated human culture for millennia.
According to historians, the concept of sentient and potentially malevolent technology has been around long before Arnold Schwarzenegger played the role of a killer robot in “The Terminator.” Adrienne Mayor, a historian of ancient science and a classical folklorist at Stanford University, explains that people have long been contemplating the implications of these kinds of inventions and innovations, even before the technology existed. These ancient tales often come with warnings about the dangers of meddling with the natural order of things.
Pandora’s story, one of the oldest tales of artificial intelligence, dates back to ancient Greece. In this myth, Zeus, the king of the gods, ordered Hephaestus to create a lifelike woman named Pandora to punish humankind. Pandora’s mission was to infiltrate human society and unleash all the miseries of the world from a jar she carried. The parallel between Prometheus, whose name means foresight, and Epimetheus, whose name means hindsight, highlights the contrasting views held by those who are concerned about the future with AI and those who are overly optimistic about its benefits.
Other ancient myths, like the story of Talos, further explore the theme of artificial life. Talos, a bronze automaton created by Hephaestus in Greek mythology, was built to protect the island of Crete. However, this technology-driven creation was ultimately defeated by technology itself when the Argonauts discovered how to remove the bolt that powered him.
These ancient myths serve as cautionary tales, instilling a sense of fear and caution about the dangers of creating something beyond human control. They highlight humanity’s underlying fear of the unknown and the consequences of tampering with forces we don’t fully understand. Similar themes are echoed in modern popular culture, with examples like Frankenstein’s monster and the rogue robots of “Blade Runner” and “The Terminator.”
While these stories captivate our imagination, they also hold important lessons. Amir Vudka, a lecturer at the University of Amsterdam, points out that in the myth of the golem, the rabbi who created this creature knew the words to reverse the spell and bring the golem back under control. This emphasizes the importance of understanding and having the ability to control the technology we create.
In an age where artificial intelligence like ChatGPT is becoming increasingly ingrained in our lives, it is crucial that we maintain a sense of responsibility and accountability for the decisions made by these AI systems. It is also essential that we acknowledge AI as a tool, rather than a new form of life. The power and potential benefits of these technological advancements should not be dismissed, but we must remain vigilant in our understanding of their capabilities and limitations.
As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of AI, it is imperative that we learn from these ancient myths and strike a balance between innovation and caution. By exercising proper control and understanding, we can harness the potential of AI while avoiding the potential pitfalls that come with it.
Sources: Stanford University, Greek Mythology, University of Amsterdam
Q: Why are people afraid of rogue artificial intelligence?
A: The fear of rogue artificial intelligence stems from our deep-rooted fascination and fear of technology gaining sentience and turning against its creators. The tales of sentient and potentially malevolent technology can be traced back to ancient myths and legends, where they serve as cautionary tales.
Q: What are some examples of ancient myths about artificial intelligence?
A: One of the oldest examples is the story of Pandora in ancient Greece. In this myth, Zeus commissions Hephaestus to create an artificial woman named Pandora, whose mission is to infiltrate human society and unleash all the miseries of the world. Another example is Talos, a bronze automaton created by Hephaestus to protect the island of Crete.
Q: What lessons can we learn from these ancient myths?
A: These ancient myths emphasize the importance of understanding and having control over the technology we create. In the story of the golem, the rabbi who created it knew the words to reverse the spell and bring the golem back under control. It underscores the need for responsibility and accountability in the development and use of AI.
Q: How can we strike a balance between innovation and caution in the age of AI?
A: It is vital to maintain a sense of responsibility and accountability for the decisions made by AI systems. This entails understanding the capabilities and limitations of AI and ensuring that it is treated as a tool rather than a new form of life. By exercising proper control and awareness, we can harness the potential benefits of AI while mitigating any potential risks.