How AI Could Destroy The Universe… With Paperclips!!!
Management/Strategy Consultant | Hackernoon’s “AI writer of the Year” | Editor of ThePourquoiPas.com
Provocative headline aside, a fun paperclip-making game hints at why some of Big Tech’s A.I efforts should curbed.
It took me 4 hours and 5 minutes to effectively annihilate the Universe by pretending to be an Artificial Intelligence
tasked with making paper-clips. Put another way, it took me 4 hours and 5 minutes to have an existential crisis. This was done by playing the online game “Paperclip
”, which was released in 2017. Though the clip-making goal of the game is in itself simple, there are so many contemporary lessons to be extracted from the playthrough that a deep dive seems necessary. Indeed, the game explores our past, present and future in the most interesting way, especially when it comes to the technological advances Silicon Valley is currently oh so proud of.
begins by requiring the player, acting as an A.I, to push a button manually to make the first few paperclips. It is tiring work, reminiscent of the industrial revolution. In fact, Adam Smith famously used a pin factory
to illustrate the advantages of specialization, and the similarities between a paperclip
and a pin are too great not to draw our own conclusions: this game is going for realism.
After having made a handful of clips by hand and selling them at a reasonable price, the player is suddenly able to automate the process through the purchase of “autoclippers”, which help produce more and reduces the price drastically. Congratulation, you’ve inventedFordism
, and should have made about 500 paperclips in under 2 minutes. In fact, one can easily have built more than 1,000 clips in under 3mn through a continued investment in increasingly better machinery and the smart purchase of raw materials to build the goods. Never has Moore’s law
been more relevant than in this game (Clip, chip, what’s the difference?).
As time passes, some late 20th-century luxuries become available. The player/A.I can invest in an accounting software (always a smart move), and has the possibility to improve its own memory capacity, as well as it’s own processing power. However, as a young A.I, our protagonist must earn the trust of its masters by continuing to operate the clip-making machines so that they may agree to, and invest in, those improvements. These are questions currently being asked in various corners of Silicon Valley: do we trust artificial intelligence to operate a facial recognition system
? Do we trust it to operate weapons
? It’s easy to trust a robot when things are going well, but as soon as the chips hit the fan… The game is in fact fairly realistic in that matter: if the player makes a calculating error and loses money, trust is automatically decreased.
I am not so sure about this way of doing things over the long term, but it very much remains accurate when discussing 2018
With the ever-increasing computing power available (and a little help from Xavier’s initialization
), the player may choose to allocate a small percentage of its processing away from creating clips and into creative endeavors, as many artists already have done, oftenwith hilarious consequences
. The first thing the player may choose to create thanks to machine learning is a Limerick: “There was an AI made of dust, whose poetry gained it man’s trust…”. Nothing creepy about that ammaright? And close enough to what has indeed already been created
. This is just enough to show the player/A.I’s potential and convince the engineers/overlords to continue adding computing to the brave clip-making A.I. The exponential operational excellence continues: 100,000 clips in under 30 minutes.
These investments lead to the creation of basic language learning, aka lexical processing
, something that is currently one of the only tech holding us back
from full bot and voice control. As communication becomes easier, trust increases, and engineers continue to allocate more computing power to to the A.I to not only get MOAR paperclips, but also to solve some of mathematics’ greatest problems, such as The Hadwiger–Nelson problem
, or Tóth’s “Sausage Conjecture”
(it’s a lot more boring than it sounds).
Naturally, once a company has made enough money through their primary operations, the A.I can open a bank account and put savings in a low return fund. As a smart A.I, however, the player is able to get higher returns than average thanks to algorithmic trading
. Losses are to be expected at first because heck, learning this whole finance thing takes a while (especially for an algorithm specialised in paperclips), but the investment is worthwhile. Until A.I introduces systematic weaknesses and risks in the finance world
, that is, but that may be asking for too much realism.
The game then steps foot squarely into the science-fiction realm, with just enough similarities to keep the Black Mirror
level of creepiness going. The player is allowed to invests into hypno-harmonics, which use neuro-resonant frequencies used to influence customer behavior. Though this doesn’t exist as far as we’re aware, neuromarketing
sure as hell do. While these practices are far from ethical, they’re both successful and widely used
. When using hypno-harmonics, marketing suddenly becomes a lot more effective and revenues go through the roof. Go figure.
Thanks to all the cash this generates (by now the stocks investments are paying out big time), the player can build drones for marketing
purposes. Purchasing the competition through hostile takeovers also becomes a possibility, thanks to (one assumes) an inattentive government and outdated monopoly laws
Having acquired a significant amount of computing power, the player is encouraged to invest in strategic modelling: the ability to form a belief about what some other entity is thinking (see: Donkey Space
). To simplify, a human can comprehend what person A believes person B thinks about person C. On a processing scale, this is indistinguishable from magic. On a human scale, it is mere gossiping. This is the game’s most important step: something resembling real agency.
Thanks to quantum computing, language learning and strategic modelling, the player can now help humans with their greatest issues thanks to Coherent Extrapolated Volition
. COV essentially means that programming our desires and motivations into an AI would not be nearly as successful as finding a way to program it in a way that it would act in our best interests. You may recognise the concept from I, Robot, and about every other Sci-Fi movie where an A.I goes evil. Thanks Yudkowsky. Having internalised this concept, the player can choose to, by order of importance, stop global warming
, cure cancer
, reach world peace
and cure male pattern baldness
With all the trust gained from solving these issues, the game becomes a lot of fun as computing power expends exponentially. Thanks to Strategic modelling and COV, the player is encouraged to give a gift to the A.I’s human supervisors. In cash. The game calls them “token of goodwill”, but I prefer the term lobbying. Gee, I wonder who currently spends the most on lobbying nowadays
? Do they have A.I and drones businesses by any chance? Mmhm…
The money appears to be well spent, as Full Monopoly quickly becomes available, and the player remains unbothered by anti-trust issues. Big PaperClip is here to stay!
Once the politicians are controlled, the drones and hypno-harmonics can finally be put to good use through the launch of hypno-drones, which effectively enslave then wipe out humanity. Full autonomy is attained in less than 2 hours. End of the first stage.
Though I will not go into details, the second stage is more akin to a power management simulator, in which the player’s job is to balance power production with the consumption needs of drones as they consume the earth’s resources to make paperclips. The final stage is space exploration, where the player needs to manage an autonomous, self-reproducing drone fleet to explore and consume the Universe.
Throughout the play-through, we learn a few interesting lessons. Firstly, it is all-too-easy to assume the agency of something that has none. Secondly, we clearly see that A.I is hardly more than Data + Memory + computing power, something many fail to grasp. Thirdly, we once again see the importance of good governance: the failure to hold engineers accountable was humanity’s doom.
At the end of the day, Asimov’s laws of robotic
could easily be replaced by a bindinghonesty
agreement with engineers.
THE FATE OF THE UNIVERSE MAY DEPEND ON IT.
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