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Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams - Autofac

Updated: Feb 19, 2021

In season 1 of Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams, episode 3 - Autofac, the purpose of artificial intelligence (AI) gone awry is explored. A war decimates humanity, leaving only rubble and an Autofac—an artificially intelligent factory which serves only one purpose, to produce goods to be consumed by people. But what happens if not enough people are left to consume that which is produced? Or even still, what would an Autofac do when there are no people at all?

As a result of the war, and a lack of consumers, the Autofac decides to create humanoids for the sole purpose of consumption. The Autofac's representative, a simulacrum played by Janelle Monáe sums it up by saying, It (the Autofac) had no consumers, no purpose, until it realized it could replace them (people) just as it does everything.

Both defining and confining the purpose of AIs to an acceptable norm has been an emerging topic of interest. In fact, this topic is discussed throughout the book Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Max Tegmark. In the book, Tegmark describes a theoretical AI that serves to produce paperclips. The AI taking its purpose to the extreme, continues to produce paperclips at all costs, and converts everything in its path into paperclips. The AI being vastly superior to humans cannot be stopped.

Although Tegmark's example may seem silly, the concern is real, and it would be incorrect to assume that AIs will have the same goals as humans. Tegmark even goes further in his book to state that defining the meaning of life is vital to the survival of the human race, and must be done before the creation of true artificial intelligence, for the same reasons mentioned above.

Did you see this particular episode of Electric Dreams? If so, what did you think? As Tegmark suggests, is it vital to the survival of the human race that the meaning of life be defined before the creation of artificial intelligence?

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