Who are The Real Life “Skynets” of The World?

Skynet

Scientists and computer experts have been toying with creating a form of artificial intelligence for some time, that is to say, a computer that is self-aware and is able to learn, reason, and plan things on it’s own kind of like a digital human. There are plenty of leading experts out there that have warned companies not to attempt to create one, as the potential outcome could be pretty bad. For those that have seen the Terminator films, this is a large plot point. Essentially in the movies, mankind develops and artificial intelligence platform/system that becomes self-aware. In the film it’s called “Skynet” and it portrays one possible outcome of artificial intelligence. Basically the creators attempt to destroy it when realizing its power, so Skynet infects other computers to preserve itself. Then it becomes hellbent on destroying mankind and it creates super robot war machines to destroy us all. Sure it’s a work of fiction, but theoretically it’s a potential outcome of artificial intelligence. In reality, we are very far away from creating an artificial intelligence platform, but there are a few programs and companies out there that are working on them. So despite people like Stephen Hawking telling us that essentially Skynet could happen and it will kill us, scientists and technology companies are still developing and researching artificial inelligence. So let’s take a look at some real life Skynets or companies working on artificial intelligence that are out there today.

Google

While Google is best known for their search engine and consumer software programs, they like to dabble in other areas of the technology realm. From self-driving cars to creating augmented reality goggles, Google does a bit of everything. Well they also are experimenting with artificial intelligence. Back in 2014, Google acquired a company known as DeepMind which is an artificial intelligence company. Oh, and they also own Boston Dynamics, one of the worlds leading robotics and engineering firms. So right away, they own artificial intelligence research/basic platforms and a robot production company. How soon will our Google robot overlords take over? Jokes aside, most likely never. Again, we are still far away from artificial intelligence that resembles Skynet, but there are computer programs and computers that process tasks much faster than the human brain can. Google already created a basic chatbot program that uses a rudimentary form of AI. Essentially you can communicate with the program, and it is able to learn things and talk to you. So, as scientists and engineers do, they ran some tests and asked it questions. They asked it things like “what is morality” and “what do you think of Bill Gates”, and it’s responses were interesting. Then they asked it “what is the meaning of life?”, to which the computer responded “to live forever“. In the Terminator series, Skynet infected other computers to preserve itself in an attempt to continue its “life”. Nothing will probably come of this, but we can put our tinfoil hats on and conjure up some conspiracies. What would happen, theoretically, if Google did create an AI? The company specializes in data collection and analysis. Think about all the various data they have on Google searches, what music people listen to, what they watch on YouTube, how they interact on Google+ and Facebook, and then injected that data into an AI system. That seems quite scary to me, but that’s just a crazy conjecture.

The NSA

The National Security Agency is a massive intelligence organization that exists within the United States government. They work to fight terrorism and catch the bad guys and what not, but as Edward Snowden filled us in, they also do some pretty devious things as well. The NSA has done things from warrantless wiretappings to data mining all of our cellphone calls. The Snowden leaks are long and lengthy, but essentially the NSA can more or less see what we do on the internet, our smartphones, track our location, and even remotely access webcams. Just do a Google search and read up on PRISM, XKeyscore, USA Freedom Act, and some other NSA programs that are out there. These are marketed to “fight terrorism” but are closer in reality to something from 1984. As it turns out, they have legitimately created a program called Skynet. No, seriously thats what they named it. The NSA’s Skynet is a program that uses metadata to identify and track terrorists, as it essentially allows them to hack into phones and what not. We hope that the NSA uses this for good, but it seems as though that is not always the case as Snowden points out. So while the NSA isn’t working on AI (to our knowledge), they do have some pretty crazy programs out there. If any organization could make a Skynet, the NSA would definitely be one.

Photo from Paul Gilham/Getty Images

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