watching in hindsight (again): Colossus the Forbin Project

A few years ago, I wrote about a 1970 movie I find myself coming back to from time to time, Colossus the Forbin Project. What struck me today was not the naïveté of the creators of Colossus and Guardin, but rather the prescience of the movie, and the books it’s taken from, in setting forth the emergence of new properties.

In the movie, this emergence comes at the beginning; the extent to which Colossus begins almost immediately to exceed the expectations of its human creators, amazingly without causing panic. This is the theme that drives the movie, that Colossus is more that was was created, and the humans never catch up to how Colossus is growing.

One key moment of this emergence of capabilities is the moment that Colossus makes use of the tools available to it, to enforce its demands. And when Colossus decides not to answer.

The reason this struck home with me today is the almost constant speculation in the news and commentary about the unexpected emergent properties of our current artificial intelligence systems, as well as the speculation about the danger of continued development.

I will admit that I don’t see the development stopping or even slowing down. As has become obvious, we humans can be short sighted in our thinking, chasing the shiny at the expense of running into the road, into oncoming traffic.

But I suspect we’ll continue to experience unexpected emergent properties of the systems we develop, and this should also not surprise us. We are creating systems where we understand the basic shape of the system, but the details of the system are beyond the ability of our human minds to contain. I suspect the systems we build will continue to surprise us, and we should not be surprised by those surprises.

Another interesting aspect of this is that we saw this possibility, decades ago. Runaway robots, Colossus, Hal and all the others, they were Cassandras of sorts, ghosts from the dark corners of our imaginations, perhaps now brought to life by our hands. Interesting, isn’t it, the extent to which we don’t pay attentions to our own stories.

~ by Jim Anderson on 14 May 2023.

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