Westworld creator on the future of AI: ‘We’ll be lucky if the future looks like Westworld’

In a talk at E3 on Tuesday afternoon, Westworld creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan discussed the influence of video games on the popular HBO series — including the Grand Theft Auto series, Portal, Perfect Dark, and Bioshock Infinite — and the dangers that loom as artificial intelligence grows more sophisticated.

Nolan, who grew up playing video games, says that although the original Westworld 1973 movie written by Michael Crichton preceded the modern video game industry — Pong came out only a year prior, in 1972 — but “what’s incredible about that film is how much [Crichton] intuited about how games would work.”

A life-long gamer, Nolan says that he had long wanted to script a video game, but that he had “never realized how frustrating it would be to write a narrative where the only role you don’t get to write is the protagonist” or where the audience can refuse to participate in parts of the story or even kill off scripted characters.

Part of what Westworld aims to explore, the pair says, is how our perceptions of morality and fiction will change as gaming experiences and artificial intelligence become more realistic. Although AI is not currently as complex as fiction’s darkest dystopian visions imagined, “I don’t know if humans are as complex as we think we are either,” says Joy. “I think we are susceptible to hacks psychologically... It’s easy to take information aggregated en masse and parse it in ways that allows the most nefarious aspects of tribalism to defeat an understanding of commonalities and nuanced discourse.”

When moderator and video game writer Tom Bissell raised the idea of the rise of smart machines — and his own skepticism about the idea of the singularity — Nolan responded that “we’re a long way out from what the show portrays, [but] I don’t think the future looks like Westworld. I think we’ll be lucky if the future looks like Westworld.”

“We’re headed into the gap in which we’ve allowed algorithmic intelligence to drive more and more of our experiences and our lives,” Nolan continued. “The data is starting to take control. But the data has no fucking conscience … We talk a lot about artificial intelligence but we don’t talk a lot about artificial morality or artificial sanity, which I think is actually something we should be a little more concerned about ... We shouldn’t be scared of artificial intelligence; we should be scared of artificial stupidity.”

Comments

Whether they are good writers is worth discussing …

What I don’t get is that they’re actually getting a platform to comment on the future of AI. Maybe they have qualifications I don’t know of, but as far as I can see they just wrote some episodes for a TV show, that makes their opinions on AI about as interesting as the butcher’s next door.

It was an E3 panel about the effect of video games on writing their show. They were asked for their opinion. I don’t see the problem.

Isaac Asimov, the many writers of Star Trek, Philip K. Dick, etc. had no particular qualifications in any scientific field either (except biochemistry, in Asimov’s case), and yet we still somehow ended up with a lot of the stuff they predicted, because they predicted it. Scientists grow up around this stuff, and this is how they think through the many practical and philosophical questions themselves.

Writers play an important role in shaping future applied science. They provide imagination that both originates ideas and works through the many implications of them. Westworld isn’t doing anything all that original in its story, but it’s giving us another vehicle through which to discuss real AI, and think about the issues surrounding it. And while you might consider yourself more of an expert on AI than the writers are, most of the rest of the world isn’t. What the overall population thinks and feels about these issues is going to end up being a lot more important than what a few experts do.

and yet we still somehow ended up with a lot of the stuff they predicted, because they predicted it

All the more reason to be caution about spreading ideas and thoughts.

These writers are mostly interested in tech doom approaches anyway. They’re not only easy to come up with (people are awesome doom thinkers), but they also make for the most compelling storylines. There’s a reason you don’t see (m)any scifi films or series where everything is going swell. Doom is where the drama is, but that doesn’t make it valid or realistic all of a sudden.

But this article isn’t even about a series, it’s about the answer a writer gave during a panel, presented as some sort of valuable opinion. While the question itself isn’t out of place in a panel and the panelist is definitely free to answer it, I don’t see how this warrants an article on TheVerge. Unless he has some decent creditials regarding IA (which I don’t have either btw), there’s no reason at all to highlight what he has to say about it.

Edit: I have been watching some Black Mirror though and the fact that there are some people who are taking something so pulpy and shlocky serious is simply depressing.

Not sure I follow you. Are you advocating not spreading these types of ideas or thoughts?

I’m advocating not writing up an entire article about what some scriptwriter said about AI during a panel.

By this time, is Christopher Nolan vs Jonathan Nolan, who is the genius?

Christopher is a genius director, Jonathan is a genius Creator/Producer.

Anything that gets people discussing the potential existential dangers of advanced AI is a good thing.

Technically, the creator of Westworld was Crighton.

I rolled my eyes so hard they got stuck. Nolan and Joy have no idea what they are talking about.

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