The year 2029 was still in the distant future when the post-apocalyptic Terminator 2: Judgement Day hit the cinemas in 1991, and portrayed it as the year in which computers will take over from mankind and nearly destroy the human race. In the film, both the human and the computer resistance send a robot off into the past in order to respectively protect and kill thirteen-year-old John Connor before he got the opportunity to lead the resistance against computers.

A lot of violent stuff follows.

I may officially have been too young for the film at the time, but I was there at the cinema anyway. The 3D re-release that was came out a couple of weeks ago has turned out to be quite popular with boys born around the turn of this century. Bumping into them at the popcorn machine, I told them that robots may not be ruling the world quite yet, but that they will be coming to take their jobs any moment now. They gave me a rather blank look.

All joking aside, robotization does threaten the status quo of human existence, on several levels. That scares us, and perhaps rightly so.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about automatized tax consultants and telemarketers – both prime examples of artificial intelligence (AI). Robots of this type learn best when they have the option of reprogramming themselves. According to some, this is the dangerous part: before you know it, the robot will reprogram itself to be a slave driver, taking us as its slaves and removing its own off-switch.

Vladimir Putin has truly understood the importance of AI. In the same week that Terminator was re-released in Moscow, he taught a science class to Russian school children in which he called AI “the future, not just for Russia, but for all of mankind.” To this he added: “He who will become leading in this area, will go on to rule mankind.”

Entrepreneur Elon Musk immediately took to Twitter to respond that artificial intelligence may well turn out to be the cause of the Third World War. In the Dutch daily morning paper Volkskrant, Arnon Grunberg wonders: “Will we ever have robots that suffer psychopathological disorders, or will those in fact be the disorders of the makers of the robots?”

Grunberg has a point, as Arnold Schwarzenegger himself explains in the film: “It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves.”

There isn’t much to be done about human nature, but we will be able to regulate technology (for now, anyway). Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, has postulated three laws for regulating AI. Firstly, we must subject robots to all of our human rules; secondly, they will not get to store confidential data or release such data without permission of their owners; and thirdly, all robots always have to introduce themselves as robots.

As long as they stick to the plan, I will be among the first to shake hands with robots. At least until 2029, that is.


This article originally appeared on Studio Zeitgeist