Interacting with computer bots — instead of with human beings — is becoming more and more common.
Bots are proliferating because they are so very useful. Businesses rely on them to automate essential processes, and of course bots running on zombie computers are responsible for the tsunami of spam and malware plaguing Internet users worldwide. At current growth rates, bots will be the majority users of the Net by 2010.
We are visible to bots even when we are not at our computers. Next time you are on a downtown street, contemplate the bot-controlled video cameras watching you, or the bots tracking your cellphone and sniffing at your Bluetooth-enabled gizmos. We walk through a gauntlet of bot-controlled sensors every time we step into a public space and the sensors are proliferating.
Bots are at best narrow AI, nothing that would make a cleric remotely nervous. But they would scare the hell out of epidemiologists who understand that parasites don’t need to be smart to be dangerous. Meanwhile, the Internet and the complex of processing, storage and sensors linked to it is growing exponentially, creating a vast new ecology for bots to roam in. Bots aren’t evolving on their own — yet.
Left unchecked, bots will trap the human race because the automation they enable will make it possible for a few people to run humanity while the rest of us are unable to make decisions of any consequence. Bots are thus vectors for despotism, with the potential to create a world where only a small group of people understand how society works. In the worst case, the controls over bots disappear — for example, the only person who knows the password to a corporate bot dies– and the bots become autonomous.