James Cameron is a genius. Regardless of what you think about the man’s movies, anyone who has listened to him speak can agree that he’s far more intelligent than the majority of Hollywood filmmakers. I actually had the opportunity to listen to him speak at this year’s Hero Complex Film Festival, which was presented by the L.A. Times in Hollywood this past weekend. In between screenings of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Cameron gave up his secrets on how to make a great sequel and much more, but one of the most fascinating bits of the conversation surrounded the future.
The Terminator obviously sets up a world in which mankind is engaged in warfare with machines, and during the fan Q&A portion of the evening, someone asked Cameron about his thoughts on how long it will take artificial intelligence to become fully self-aware, and instead of just tossing aside the question with a jokey response, Cameron actually answered it with some insight:
I don’t work in artificial intelligence. There’s a lot of neuroscience and a lot of theories about the nature of consciousness and passing the Turing test and all that, but if I had to guess, a machine that could pass the Turing test consistently could probably exist in between one and two decades, if not tomorrow. It’s not going to be very long. Looking at that, there’s the obvious parallels to Terminator: drones now are a big deal, and they’re changing the geopolitics of the world and the nature of warfare and so on, and people are now having really serious policy-level discussions about whether you should allow a machine to kill. We’re going to have to wrestle with that. Letting a machine kill autonomously, as opposed to a predator drone firing a missile on command through remote control. So that’s an issue. Then you’ve got the AI issue. But when you think about ‘humans against the machines,’ humans were against the machines in Terminator, but the machines have already won. All you have to do is look around and see how many people are on some device all the time, and you’ll see that the machines have already won – at least in the sense that we are now co-evolving with our machines. The outcome will be some kind of merge of human consciousness and machine consciousness that we can’t predict, but it’s clearly happening already.
Cameron is probably one of the smartest people on Earth. This is a guy who designed his own single-person submarine and descended to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in it, becoming the first man to ever make the journey solo. He pioneered computer technology that allowed for one of the first CG main characters in a film (The T-1000), developed motion capture technology that allowed him to see a rendered version of Pandora on a monitor as he pointed the camera in an open soundstage while he was filming the first Avatar, and – oh yeah – directed the two highest grossing films of all time. When this guy speaks about anything involving technology, I for one am going to listen to him.
The concept of a “merge of human consciousness and machine consciousness” isn’t a new one, but it’s interesting to hear that he thinks that’s where we’re heading in the real world. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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