I, For One, Welcome Our New A.I. Underlords

“I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords” is a memorable mondegreen from the 1977 film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ short story Empire of the Ants, which revolved around giant mutated ants attempting to destroy humankind. In the film, actress Joan Collins reacts to the insect threat by saying a similar line, “Don’t you see, we mustn’t’ disobey them. We must take care of them and we must help them.”

In online conversations, the phrase can be used to suggest that an outsider group or entity is powerful enough to rule over humanity. In discussion forums and chatrooms, its phrasal template “I, for one, welcome our new X overlords” has been widely used to express mock submission towards an obsessively controlling individual for the sake of humor.

The phrase gained popularity after the airing of a 1994 episode of The Simpsons, “Deep Space Homer”, in which news announcer Kent Brockman mistakenly assumes the Earth is about to be invaded by giant space ants. Fearing for his life, he announces his willingness to submit to the imagined invaders.

The Rise of I, Robot

In recent times, the most common two letters substituted for the X in the aforementioned phrasal template are, A.I., as in:

In my personal opinion, worrying about a 2001 Space Odessey, Skynet, Terminator-2, Transcendence, HUM∀NS, Westworld, Insert-Your-Own-AI-Sci-Fi Epic doomsday scenario is Luddite logic. Ever since the first industrial revolution, we as a species have adapted to our latest technologies. Sure technology adoption is rising at an exponential rate (although even that is debatable), but so will our capacity to adapt. To channel Dr. Michael Crichton:

Perhaps the recent hysteria surrounding the ascendance of A.I. is loosely correlated with China’s increasing influence in the space and the country’s ethically questionable use of this groundbreaking technology, which has also given birth to a 49ers style mandarin goldrush. There are currently five Chinese A.I. companies such as Yitu, Megvii, SenseTime, and CloudWalk, are each valued at more than a billion dollars. Tech Unicorns or Data Dragons?

China’s A.I. Development Plan — Belts, Roads and Robots

A.I. development reached a symbolic moment in May 2017 during a match of the ancient Chinese game Go, considered by many to be the world’s most complex game, invented almost 2,500 years ago.

Ke Jie, a Chinese player recognized as the world’s best, competed against a program from Google parent company Alphabet in a three-game match. The A.I. wiped the floor with Jie, winning all three games.

Less than two months after the defeat, China’s central government announced its ambitious plans to ramp up its A.I. capabilities, where it aims to create “a next-generation artificial intelligence development plan.” It seems that Chinese technological belly was getting too big for just one belt.

The world’s first government-backed A.I. Development Plan is broken up into three key benchmarks:

  1. Keep pace with A.I. technologies by 2020
  2. Achieve A.I. breakthroughs by 2025
  3. Become the world leader in AI by 2030

So much for our carbon copy Khaleeji visions to be less carbon dependent. Chinese plans are also followed up by…ACTION! In 2017, Chinese venture capital investors poured record sums of money into AI — making up 48% of all AI venture funding globally. To perhaps bring home how central A.I. is to the Chinese growth story, Chinese A.I. start-ups raised $4.9 billion in 2017 made up of just 19 investments, while their U.S. counterparts raised $4.4 billion from 155 investments.

Shifting to a more global scale, analysts pegged the global A.I. market at a whopping $7.35 billion in 2018, buoyed by the influx of machine learning-aided image recognition, object identification, detection, and classification, and geophysical detection startups, apps, and services in every conceivable sector (and particularly enterprise). In fact, global GDP is set to increase by 14% because of A.I., according to PwC. The tech’s deployment in the decade ahead will add $15.7 trillion to global GDP, with China predicted to take $7 trillion and North America $3.7 trillion. Go China!

Dragon Tears

One of the earliest depictions of a dragon was found on a plate in Taoist southern Shanxi, carbon dated to 2500–1900 BCE, during China’s earliest dynasty, the Xia dynasty.

In Taoist Chinese ecological lore, the dragon is a shamanic symbol associated with the great water goddess and her sacred life-giving element…water. The dragon is also a symbol of fertility, mist, dew, rivers and rain. There is no doubt that A.I. is as crucial to our technological future as water was to our agricultural past.

Additionally, in ancient Chinese mythological lore, the dragon motif embodies transformation, yin. There is no doubt that A.I. is set to transform a multitude of industries starting with healthcare. CB Insight’s latest A.I. in Healthcare dispatch packs more than a few juicy nuggets, including this headliner: A.I. startups have raised $4.3 billion across 576 funding rounds since 2013, topping all other industries. Not to be outdone in the realm of health either, earlier this month, an A.I.-powered cloud-based cervical cancer screening platform was launched in China after 17 years of development. Wuhan University’s Landing A.I. Research Centre teamed up with multi-disciplinary experts who established a unique system that uses A.I. cytopathological* software and Landing’s robotic hardware. Landing’s scanning platform was then connected to a cloud platform where A.I. generated reports can be sent directly to a doctor’s mobile phone or could be remotely reviewed by cytologists.

So, does A.I. symbolize the tale of those mythological all-healing “dragon tears?” I personally doubt it. I am increasingly skeptical of A.I.’s place as a panacea to our growing healthcare pangs (sorry Watson), but decreasing the diagnostic burden on doctors is certainly a step in the right direction. As irony would have it, we are even inventing sick robots to educate the B.I. (biological intelligence) doctors of the future.

Across cultures, dragons are associated with imperial power; China’s first emperors were believed to be decedents of the celestial dragon-spirit. There is no doubt that the potential of A.I. is powerful, but the tech is simply not there yet. Worrying about an A.I. overlord scenario is akin to worrying about a dragon apocalypse. I widely express mock submission towards an obsessively controlling A.I. for the sake of humor.

If anything, the A.I. we build should always remain subservient to us. Even beyond Isaac Asimov’s first law of robotics, I personally envision a serene symbiotic cybergenetic relationship between A.I. and B.I. whereby the latter does most of the computational heavy lifting, leaving the higher cerebral confines of consciousness to the seven billion X 100 billion or so nervous nellies that make up the collective firepower of our most distinguished organ. This A.I. — B.I. partnership should usher in a utopian era of technological innovation, freeing mankind from the shackles of mind-numbing 9–5 labor, and encouraging us to have creative careers instead of Kafkaesque jobs. A world of UBI — Universal Basic Income where humans essentially don’t have to work for a living. Our A.I. will do all the chores and all we have to do is tap into our innovative essence. A planet preoccupied with panem et circenses (so long as those pesky copper-top powered robots don’t eat our food).

I, for one, welcome our new A.I. underlords. “Don’t you see, we mustn’t’ delay them. We must take care of them and we must help them.

“The Way of the Future”