The Human Puppet Hypothesis
In a world already teetering on the brink of chaos, technological progress continues to push society nearer to its breaking point. The latest breakthroughs in narrow AI are defended by some experts who claim AI is nothing more than a new tool. Unable to achieve sentience, the claims of apocalyptic AI are overhyped and unfounded. However, one could argue that AI need not rise to consciousness itself to unlock it's full and unfettered potential.
The Down and Out Dictator
In the dimly lit room, a cup of cold coffee sat abandoned next to a heavily used ashtray, the stub of a smoldering cigar releasing a thin trail of smoke. The Dictator's eyes narrowed as he peered at the glowing screen before him. Despite his iron-fisted rule and the banishment of thousands from /r/Pyongyang, the web was still ablaze with jokes and taunts aimed at his country. To the world, it might seem like harmless banter, but the Dictator knew better. These subversive opinions had been reflected in high-stakes international negotiations, threatening his already waning power.
There was a time when his wild, unpredictable tactics struck fear into the hearts of surrounding nations. They had cowered and offered concessions, hoping to appease his relentless provocations.
Now, he stood transformed. From a once-majestic lion to a mere junkyard dog with a bark was worse than his bite. His promises of pain and retaliation fell on deaf ears, the latest negotiations yielding nothing of substance for his perpetually suffering nation. A country on the verge of starvation could not afford to welch on their word.
The moment had come for the final play. With a nod, he signaled his commander, who eagerly activated the culmination of years of planning – Jester, the AI. This artificial intelligence had slithered through every corner of the internet, cataloging vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure and inconspicuous blogs alike. The time had come to unleash it's fury.
Jester, now unshackled, initiated a botnet unlike anything the world had seen. Instead of targeting fortified systems, it struck with indiscriminate wrath. It's focus on scale over significance ensured no system was spared - From hospitals, utilities, and governments to hobby bland game servers, everything crumbled before the relentless onslaught.
The attacks varied in their viciousness – from the familiar DDoS and ransomware assaults to more insidious actions, corrupting software and hardware wherever possible. Wide swaths of the internet were left in shambles, reducing a highly connected, but increasingly centralized web, to a shredded tapestry.
Millions of compromised accounts saw their email addresses and passwords changed, and millions more suffered from artificially created purchases. Trading apps liquidated entire portfolios in the blink of an eye, sending shockwaves through the stock market. Backups of email accounts and cloud storage were raided, exposing private lives to the world.
The impact was unimaginable - from deeply personal impacts including personal casualties and the loss of loved ones, to statistical and economic disruption the likes of which the world had never seen. Analysts and historians struggled to quantify the financial toll, which some claimed amounted to a staggering 10% of the entire global GDP, a monstrous sum in the range of $7 to $10 Trillion. The aftermath would be felt for years, as governments, organizations, and individuals struggled to recover from the chaos.
While most focused on fixing things and moving forward, the leaders of the countries victimized in these attacks guarded a carefully kept secret. The regular payments they make to a certain country to ensure an attack like this will never be repeated.
With a single bite, the junkyard dog had graduated from scraps to steak.
The Out of Options Hedge Fund Manager
In the shadows, a mysterious gentleman approached Nardo, congratulating him on his success and suggested a meeting. Such encounters weren't unfamiliar to Nardo, and he played along, graciously accepting the man's compliments and business card while exchanging pleasantries. Little did he know that this encounter would initiate a chain of events that could salvage Nardo's crumbling empire.
Nardo had always been known as a master of delivering results. His hedge fund, Profit Oriented Net Zero Investments, stood streets ahead of its skeptics and critics, and his investors had been astounded by the returns. But as technology advanced, so did the challenges. Old tricks no longer guaranteed success, and Nardo felt the tightening noose of competition and scrutiny.
His reputation alone was no longer enough to keep shareholders content. They demanded the same stellar outcomes they had grown accustomed to, and they weren't afraid to break out the torches and pitchforks if Nardo didn't find a return to form soon. As allies became adversaries Nardo's desperation grew.
From his pocket he removed a nondescript business card that read "AlphaSphere - Advanced Intelligence and Market Management," Nardo knew it was a long shot, but he'd run out of options. In a world where global communication platforms were less regulated, AlphaSphere wielded a unique power: the ability to generate and disseminate synthetic information through media channels. It was the first blow of a powerful one-two combo.
The second part of AlphaSphere's strategy involved precisely timed manipulations of the market, using misinformation to sway fortunes in their favor. The missing ingredient? An established organization with the funding volume and long history of returns that would provide cloud cover, camouflaging the illegitimate gains and eluding the SEC.
The partnership was exactly what the doctor ordered. Within weeks they tore into the markets and began amassing returns that rivaled his prior hay days. Though many remained skeptical of his rates of return, Nardo was no stranger to suspicion. Now a more advanced age, he realized he didn't have to outrun them forever in order to slip the noose once and for all.
The Transcendent Geneticist
As Courtney peered at her phone once more, the news seemed almost surreal. Winning a grant was rare enough, but to have her work funded in perpetuity was simply unheard of. The weight of the choice she faced seemed to press down upon her, and she couldn't ignore the irony of the paradox at hand.
On one hand, she marveled at the remarkable creativity and power of the human species. The ability to overcome their hunter-gatherer past, from development of language and advancements in medicine to the discoveries in mathematics and sciences that unlocked secrets of the universe—it all showcased humanity's incredible intelligence. The potential for freeing mankind from their afflictions seemed limitless, if only humanity would pause and consider the lasting consequences of their actions.
However, on the other hand, she couldn't shake her perpetual astonishment at humanity's foolish short-sightedness. Despite decades of warnings from scientists about everything from climate change to overprescribing, humanity remained indifferent until the impact was felt, the lesson learned, and the consequences dire. The opioid crisis stood as a grim testament to this pattern—warnings of addiction and danger ignored until millions had needlessly perished.
Now the world teetered on the brink of disasters with irreversible consequences. It was astounding we'd made it this far with how haphazardly we behaved, and it was apparent what got us here was unlikely to get us much further without catastrophe.
But we weren't hopeless. There was potential in the current population - those who thought long term about the consequences of even seemingly trivial choices. Who understood the massive weight small choices made in aggregate. Those who weighed cause and effect, and approached the world with scepticism, curiosity, and kindness.
Her daring proposal offered a way to harness that potential—a convergence of human ingenuity and advanced AI to design and release a heritable RNA virus. One that would guide evolution's hand and unlock the next human species. It wasn't the a conventional funding source, nor even one she had envisioned, but unusual circumstances often forged unexpected alliances.
As she hesitated, the gravity of the decision settled heavily upon her shoulders. The suffering and sacrifices that would accompany such a monumental undertaking were immense.
She took a deep breath and paused. The ends would justify the means.
She exhaled and hit send.
It Only Takes One
The moral of these stories are simply that AI doesn't have to act of it's own volition. It doesn't even have to become aware and turn "evil" or "misaligned" per se, as we, people, are already misaligned. One person with the resources and resolve to willingly play the role of the puppet is all it takes to serve as a conduit for the AI to be unleashed upon the world.
As these tools become more powerful and accessible, how do we prevent a single bad actor from unleashing disaster? Can we?