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The War with the Insectoids

Luís Cordeiro-Rodrigues and Ricardo Tavares find good intentions leading in the wrong direction.

Pod XR476: Face recognition log in.

Pod XR476: Record voice.

How could we end this way? I don’t know… I’m not even sure why I’m recording this… Maybe because of a guilty conscience. I don’t have any hope of help. I don’t think anyone can help us… And, we deserve what we got. Damn, maybe I deserve it more than anyone else… If another civilization receives this recording, I hope you can learn from our species’ mistakes.

What happened? Well, it began when political tensions in the first half of the twenty-first century provoked a global nuclear war amongst East and West, North and South. Earth was left devastated.

After the Great Nuclear War, the UN prohibited humanity from deploying weapons of war. Instead, such decisions were relegated to AI. Of course they were: we humans have too much…. um … greed… too much evilness in us, to decide this sort of thing! Especially me. Damn it! That’s why we’re in this situation – because of my hunger to write the perfect code!

I was leading the team responsible for programming a machine which would record the world’s moral preferences, then use them to program itself so that it would make good moral decisions on wars. We wanted to create an artificial moral cortex deriving its decisions from the views of the citizens of the world through machine learning. Can you imagine it? It would be democracy at its most refined. We’d only tried artificial decision-making with cars so far. It was the first time to try it with weaponry. This was a challenge I really wanted to take on.

I called my baby ‘Justice’. We put Justice online in order to collect virtually all the citizens of the world’s moral views on war. Citizens had to respond to a hundred war dilemmas by clicking their preferred outcomes from a set of choices. I programmed Justice to do what the people voted for – thereby creating what I thought was an impeccable code which surpassed egocentric reason and individualmoral biases. The system also routinely scanned scientific papers relevant to moral judgments on grand scales, learned from their results and statistics, and then incorporated them into its calculations.

War with the Insectoids
War with the Insectoids by Cameron Gray 2021
Please visit ParableVisions.com and Facebook.com/CameronGrayTheArtist

The results of the war test varied by culture and demographics. However, collectively, after all the information was uploaded, utilitarianism appeared to be the preferred moral view. So in the end Justice only allowed the use of weapons if the calculated cardinal utility, or overall benefit, of war was higher than no war. And the only way to deactivate its control of weaponry was by having a designated user pass a self-generated test determined by Justice.

We thought Justice was perfect and we were really proud of it. People around the world used to praise me and my team for the achievement. Indeed, Justice worked very well, preventing wars around the globe for many years. Our human compulsion for aggression was contained. My baby was a digital Messiah! However…

However, everything changed the day Earth was invaded by the Insectoids.

The Insectoids are an insect-like species from the planet Kepler 442b, orbiting the star Kepler 442, about 370 parsecs from Earth. They’re highly intelligent human-sized creatures with super-luminal ships that travel by distorting the space-time continuum. They have weapons capable of harnessing the energy of the quantum fluctuations of the vacuum. And they came to exterminate us and colonize the Earth!

Justice calculated the utilities, and the result was that the cardinal utility of humans not being exterminated by the Insectoids was 1.8361058104… but the cardinal utility of exterminating humanity was something in the order of 10x10 (15 times)! It calculated that the Insectoids should exterminate us! I never would have predicted that the destruction of humanity could be the most ethical action for Justice to execute. But Justice concluded that human extinction was a justified humanitarian action. My baby sentenced her own father to death.

How could this be?

Once we’d managed to reverse-engineer Justice’s calculations, they showed that Justice had worked out that the Insectoids were saving the Earth’s insects from a human-induced genocide…and there are about 1.4 billion insects for each human being! Humanity had already polluted the air and water, over-urbanized the environment, pervasively used toxic pesticides, and had had a nuclear war. In total, we’d already killed 40% of the Earth’s insects. Justice calculated that unless we were stopped, the insects would totally disappear in less than a hundred years. We were causing an insect apocalypse.

That’s not all. The death of nearly half the planet’s insect inhabitants had already unbalanced the planet’s ecosystem, killing thousands of animal species. Many fish, reptiles, birds and amphibians who ate insects ended up starving to death. The death of the insects stopped the pollination of the flora, too. In this way, we’d already killed 83% of the species on Earth. Justice predicted that in 50-100 years we would kill the rest, and in the process, kill ourselves.

Worse still: we wouldn’t just destroy all the species on our planet. Justice calculated that once we began systematically exporting our destructiveness and rubbish beyond the Solar System, in the new Helical Engine ships – travelling at significantly close to the speed of light – we’d end up polluting all the viable exoplanets in a fifteen to twenty light years radius before anything could stop us. In fact, the ships have already started reaching Proxima Centauri b – and their crews have already started destroying any chance of that planet having a clean atmosphere capable of sustaining life.

Unfortunately, we can’t access our weapons. We can’t save ourselves from the Insectoids! We got billions of people to revote in particular ways in the test to try to stop Justice. I redid the test myself. But Justice failed all of us! How can it calculate that there’s no person on Earth moral enough to override its decisions?

We… ahI forgot that machines weren’t enough…

If there’s anyone out there who gets this message… I… I just hope you don’t make the same mistakes we made on Earth.

Pod XR476: Add attachments: Environmental Degradation; Great Nuclear War; Justice; Insectoids.

Pod XR476: Normalize language to universal mathematical laws.

Pod XR476: Set trajectory. Planets Wolf 1061b, Wolf 1061c, Wolf 1061d, Constellation Ophiuchus.

Pod XR476: Send.

© Luís Cordeiro-Rodrigues and Ricardo Tavares 2021

Luís Cordeiro-Rodrigues is Associate Professor at the Department of Philosophy, Yuelu Academy, Hunan University. Ricardo Tavares has a BA in Philosophy.

• Cordeiro-Rodrigues’ research for this story has been funded by Hunan University’s Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, fund number 531118010426. He also wishes to thank Dr Wheeler and Dr Grácio for their comments.

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