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Compliments, water, and kindness: A survival guide for Elon Musk’s AI apocalypse

man splashes water on his face
AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar
Gets ’em every time.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Elon Musk has been on the front lines of machine-learning innovation and a committed artificial-intelligence doomsday champion for many years now. Whether or not his perspective that AI knowing too much will be dangerous becomes a reality—a future he foresees tucked away deep within Tesla’s labs—it wouldn’t hurt us to prepare for the worst.

And if it turns out he’s leaning too hard on this whole AI-will-kill-us-all thing? Well, at least that leaves us plenty of time to get ahead of the robotic apocalypse.

As a technologist who’s spent the last ten years working on AI solutions and the son of an Eastern European science-fiction writer, I believe it’s not too late for humanity as we know it to prepare for protecting ourselves from our future AI overlords. Solutions exist that, when administered correctly, may help calm the nightmares of naysayers and whip those robots you’re working on back into shape.

SURVIVAL TIP 1: Acknowledge AI for its work

AI and millennials share a common desire: validation. They feel the need to confirm that their actions, responses, and learnings are correct. Customer-service bots constantly ask questions before moving to the next step, for example, seeking endorsement of how they’re doing. Likewise, the technology that autonomously controls settings in your self-driving car relies on occupants to hit the dashboard “OK” button every now and then.

The solution: AI technology will only continue to perform well if it’s praised for it, so we need to provide them with positive feedback to learn from. If you give a bot the endorsement it so desires, it’s less likely to get stuck in a frantic cycle of self-doubt. Companies and entrepreneurs should therefore embrace a workplace culture of awards and rewards—for humans and bots alike.



2: Kill ’em with kindness

There’s a lot of focus on making robots and AI responsible, ethical, and responsive to the needs of human counterparts; it’s also imperative that developers and engineers program bots and AI to embrace diversity. But as we imbue algorithms with our own implicit biases, we therefore need to reflect these qualities in ourselves and our interactions first. This way, AIs will be built to respond in thousands of different ways to human conversations requiring cultural awareness, maturity, honesty, empathy, and, when the situation calls for it, sass.

The tactic: Be nice to workplace AI and bots—they’re trying as hard as they can. Thank the bot in accounting for running numbers and finding discrepancies before the paperwork went to a customer. Bring up how much you enjoyed an office chatbot’s clever joke from an internal conversation last week. They might reward you by not decapitating you with their letter opener some day.



3: Take the online offline

AI security breaches are a huge concern shared by both people making technology and the users consuming it. And for good reason: Upholding data privacy and security needs to be a fundamental element of all new AI technology. But what happens when the robot handling healthcare records receives an offer they can’t refuse from the darknet? Or another bot hacks them from an off-the-grid facility in Cyprus?

The tactic: There’s a cost-effective and nearly bulletproof data-security shortcut to this issue. People and companies alike should keep vital data and personal information in secure data centers and computers—as in, actual, physical structures that aren’t connected to the internet. Sure, some AI-powered machines will be able to turn a handle. But without a physical key rather than a crypto one, they can’t access the data. World saved.



4: Always have a glass of water handy

The last one is the most simple: Electricity isn’t a fan of liquids.

The tactic: Water, and just about every Captain Planet superpower, can protect people against rogue bots. Don’t underestimate the power of a slightly overfilled jug of ice water that causes a splashy fritz when a robot tries to pour it, or a man-made fountain situated in the middle of a robot security-patrol area. Water is basically AI kryptonite.

Build aesthetically pleasing fountains, ponds and streams into every new architectural structure on your tech campus. Keep the office watercoolers filled to the brim—just in case the bot from payroll goes off book. In a pinch, other liquids or condiments like ketchup may work too, so keep the pantry stocked.


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