What if artificial intelligence surpassed humans and went on to rule the world? Would we start begging AI to spare our lives?
These are some of the questions that linger in viewers’ minds after watching the latest edition of the Mission: Impossible series, Dead Reckoning Part One, released on July 10.
The movie’s early popularity helped star Tom Cruise shatter a Rotten Tomatoes record. It also scores points for its timely portrayal of the potential dangers of AI, which is provoking deep anxieties in real life.
In Dead Reckoning, an all-conquering AI tool named “The Entity” goes rogue. Impenetrable by any human technology or weapon, it can scrub live video feeds, impersonate voices, crack identity security codes—even those using fingerprints—and orchestrate large-scale mayhem. Not surprisingly, governments yearn to possess it, to make themselves more powerful.
Even as AI designers keep warning of its risks, with some saying that AI models can learn skills they weren’t trained for, Mission: Impossible amplifies worries about the technology, depicting a sentient AI tool capable of mass extermination.
That scenario echoes the concerns of tech industry leaders such as Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak, the Apple co-founder, who recently signed a letter calling for a six-month pause on the training of AI models more powerful than OpenAI’s GPT-4 large language model. The letter, which has more than 33,000 signatures, asks AI innovators to stop “the dangerous race to ever-larger unpredictable black-box models.”
One fear is that a “superintelligent” AI like the Entity could emerge, with disastrous results for humanity. “If it’s much smarter than us, then it can get more of whatever it wants. First, it wants us dead before we build any more superintelligences that might compete with it,” Eliezer Yudkowsky, a co-founder and research fellow at Machine Intelligence Research Institute, wrote in the Guardian. “Second, it’s probably going to want to do things that kill us as a side-effect, such as building so many power plants that run off nuclear fusion.”
With its AI spin, Dead Reckoning is just the latest Mission: Impossible movie to highlight the hazards of the powerful technology du jour. But it’s worth remembering that, in most cases, our worst fears about them haven’t come to fruition.
Here’s a roundup of previous Mission: Impossible films, their tech villains, and how those menaces have played out in real life.