There was a day last summer when the intern who was working on the database of scifi books and movies we created to go with the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction said, “Do you have an article on Fear? It seems like that’s what most of the movies are about, fear that the computers are going to take over.”
While it’s not 100% fear, we can all think of science fiction in which the computers, or machines, are not benign. Think of the Terminator movies (yes, I’ve really watched two of them). Or the classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Actually, my original idea for a title for our HCI encyclopedia was “I Can’t Let You Do That, Dave.” I still feel a shiver at husky-sweet computerized voices.
Now even New Scientist, one of my favorite magazines since my first days in publishing at Blackwell Scientific in London, says we should be scared! “…while a $1000 PC has roughly the computing power of an insect brain, if today’s trends continue then in 15 years time $1000 will buy enough computing power to rival a human brain. In 2020, AI [artifical intelligence] will have a very different complexion./There are reasons to worry….is it right that a single company should have exclusive control over such a powerful force? If not, how should it be regulated? Science fiction writers and futurologists have long mused over the day when computers take over. It is time the rest of us gave it a thought.” (Editorial, 23 April 2005). Read “Whatever happened to machines that think?“