People are working on making robot cars communicate, with pedestrians for instance.
Notice that the apparent benefit of having cars communicate with pedestrians doesn’t actually have much to do with robots driving the cars. If having cars signal to pedestrians is useful, probably so is having drivers signal to pedestrians. Yet current cars and driving norms hardly provide for this at all. Many a time I have thought about this when trying to cross a road when there is a car coming toward me that seems to be slowing down, kind of, and whose windscreen I can’t really see through. Is the driver waving to me? Eating a sandwich? Hard to tell, so I won’t take my chances. Ah, now he’s stopped. And he’s annoyed. Or swatting a fly. Does that mean he’s about to go? Hard to tell, maybe I’ll just wait a sec to be sure. Now he’s really annoyed – annoyed enough to give up and drive on?… If only there were some little signal that meant ‘while this signal is on, I see you and am stopping for you’.
This is not my real point, but an example. Thinking about a strange future of robot cars causes us to make predictions and envision potentially valuable additions to it that have little to do with robot cars. Similarly, thinking about future AI development causes people to wonder if sudden leaps in technological capacity could cause a small portion of humanity to get far ahead of the rest, or if human values might be lost in the long run. These issues are not specific to AI. Yet when we look at the world around us we seem less likely to see ways to improve it, or to wonder why no groups of humans do get ahead of the rest technologically, or even notice that technological changes tend to be relatively small, or to ask what is becoming of our values.
In general it seems that thinking about strange scenarios causes people expect things to happen which have little to do with the scenarios. Since they have little to do with the scenarios, it makes sense to ask why they haven’t already happened, or whether we could already benefit from them.
Some men see things as they are and say, why? I dream of things the way they never were and say, why not?
- Robert F. Kennedy, after George Bernard Shaw
Dreaming of the way things never were seems more impressive, difficult, and useful. Perhaps thinking of strange scenarios is one way to do it more easily.