When I talk with people about the future and artificial intelligence, I find they are genuinely worried about the future before us. As much as people want to be optimistic, they struggle with the future. I believe in large part the reason is the movies Hollywood makes about the future.
Look, I’m not blaming them. I am sure the movie “Everything’s Gonna be Great” won’t have folks lining up to buy tickets. Dystopia is drama and such tales can, in fact, serve a good purpose. As science fiction writer Frank Herbert said, “The function of science fiction is not always to predict the future, but sometimes to prevent it.”
Hollywood traffics in a pretty narrow range of science fiction themes, including, “Us versus the robots” (Terminator, Matrix), “Us versus the AI” (Ex Machina, 2001), “Us versus the rich people who use technology to oppress the poor” (Elyseum, Snowpiercer, In Time), and the catchall, “Everything in the future just kind of sucks” (Book of Eli, Mad Max, Brazil, Children of Men, Planet of the Apes, V for Vendetta, WALL-E). Our brains are wired for stories. It is hard to overstate how much.
In 1944, some college students were shown a short film with a circle and two triangles moving across the screen. When asked to describe what they saw, virtually all of them told the “story” in rich detail, ascribing age, gender, disposition, and intention on these figures.
Stories so resonate with us that for countless thousands of years before writing, stories were passed down orally. And when you watch a movie, your brain is engaged in a way not unlike actually experiencing the events yourself. So just think of the power of all those movies. That is why I think much of the angst we feel about the future is wrapped up in the stories we tell, not in reasoned analysis.