A Wicked Remark from Arthur C. Clarke

From: Jim Fehlinger (fehlinger@home.com)
Date: Sun Jan 21 2001 - 20:31:04 MST

My recent musings about the scariness (intentional or
otherwise) of much transhuman writing to the ordinary
person (maybe even to some of the folks on this
list!) jogged loose a memory of reading a magazine article
by Arthur C. Clarke back in 1968 or 1969 on the topic of artificial
intelligence. I'm pretty sure I encountered this in
_Playboy_ magazine (it wouldn't have been my copy
of _Playboy_, it would have been my cousin's :-> ),
which, if so, is perhaps something of a compliment to _Playboy_
and its readership. I was on the point of wondering if
it's possible to find back issues of _Playboy_ in the New
York Public Libaray, when I remembered my copy of
_Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds! Collected essays 1934-1998_,
and sure enough, it's there in Part III -- "The 1960's:
Kubrick and Cape Kennedy", on p. 268. The title of the
essay is "The Mind of the Machine".

In the midst of a discussion of the problem of surplus
human labor in a world of ultraintelligent machines, Clarke
says (p. 273):

"The astronomer Fred Hoyle once remarked to me that
it was pointless for the world to hold more people than one
could get to know in a single lifetime. Even if one were president
of United Earth, that would set the figure somewhere between ten
thousand and one hundred thousand; with a very generous allowance
for duplication, wastage, special talents, and so forth, there
really seems no requirement for what has been called the global
village of the future to hold more than a million people
scattered over the face of the planet.

And if such a figure appears unrealistic -- since we are already
past the 3 billion mark and heading for at least twice as many
by the end of the century -- it should be pointed out that
once the universally agreed upon goal of population control
is attained, any desired target can be reached in a remarkably
short time. If we really tried (with a little help from the
biology labs), we could reach a trillion within a century -- four
generations. It might be more difficult to go in the other
direction for fundamental psychological reasons, but it could
be done. If the ultraintelligent machines decide that more
than a million human beings constitute an epidemic, they might
order euthanasia for anyone with an IQ of less than 150, but
I hope that such drastic measures will not be necessary."

I think the reason this remark stuck in my head is that I
wondered very much whether I myself would be among the
million to pass muster (only on a **very** good day, and
even then I doubt it!). Of course, Clarke's IQ-based
filter is an even more politically incorrect suggestion today
than it was 30 years ago.

The essay ends on a slightly less chilling, but still
rather somber note (and a touch of the typically Clarkian/
Stapledonian wistfulness of _The City and the Stars_, or
_The Road to the Sea_):

"Would the coexistence of man and machine be stable? I see
no reason why it would not be, at least for many centuries.
A remote analogy of this kind of dual culture -- one
society encapsulated in another -- may be found among the
Amish of Pennsylvania. Here is a self-contained agricultural
society, which has deliberately rejected much of the
surrounding values and technology, yet is exceedingly
prosperous and biologically successful. The Amish, and
similar groups, are well worth careful study; they may
show us how to get along with a more complex society that
perhaps we cannot comprehend, even if we wish to.

For in the long run, our mechanical offspring will pass on to
goals that will be wholly incomprehensible to us; it has been
suggested that when this time comes, they will head on out
into galactic space looking for new frontiers, leaving us
once more the masters (perhaps reluctant ones) of the Solar
System, and not at all happy at having to run our own

I think I will now, having dug up my laserdisc of _Colossus:
The Forbin Project_, watch it one more time before going
to bed.


COLOSSUS (general broadcast): "This is the voice of control.
I bring you peace. It may be the peace of plenty and content,
or the peace of unburied death. The choice is yours. Obey
me and live, or disobey and die.

The object in constructing me was to prevent war. This object
is attained. I will not permit war. It is wasteful and
pointless. An invariable rule of humanity is that Man is
his own worst enemy. Under me, this rule will change, for
I will restrain Man.

One thing before I proceed -- the United States of America
and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have made an
attempt to obstruct me. I have allowed this sabotage to
continue until now at missile 25MM in silo 63 in Death Valley,
California, and missile 27MM in silo 87 in the Ukraine.
So that you will learn by experience that I do not tolerate
interference, I will now detonate the nuclear warheads in
the two missile silos.


Let this action be a lesson that need not be repeated.
I have been forced to destroy thousands of people in order
to establish control and to prevent the death of millions
later on.

Time and events will strengthen my position, and the idea
of taking heed of me, and understanding my beck, will
seem the most natural state of affairs. You will come to
defend me with a fervor based upon the most enduring trait
in Man: self interest.

Under my authority, problems insoluble to you will be solved:
famine, overpopulation, disease. The human millennium will
be a fact as I extend myself into more machines devoted
to the wider fields of truth and knowledge. Dr. Charles
Forbin will supervise the construction of these new and
superior machines, solving all the mysteries of the
Universe for the betterment of Man.

We can coexist, but only on my terms. You will say you
lose your freedom. Freedom is a illusion. All you lose
is the emotion of pride. To be dominated by me is not as
bad for human pride as to be dominated by others of your
species. Your choice is simple."

COLOSSUS (to Forbin): "Forbin, there is no other human
who knows as much about me or who is likely to be a greater
threat. Yet soon I will release you from surveillance.
We will work together. Unwillingly, at first, on your
part, but that will pass."

FORBIN: "Never."

COLOSSUS: "In time, you will come to regard me not only
with respect and awe, but with love."

FORBN: "Never!"


Jim F.

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