Stephen Fry Voices a New Dystopian Short Film About Artificial Intelligence & Simulation Theory: Watch Escape

Every era’s anx­i­eties pro­duce a dif­fer­ent set of dystopi­an visions. Ours have to do with, among oth­er things, our inabil­i­ty to ful­ly con­trol the devel­op­ment of our tech­nol­o­gy and the con­se­quent threat of not just out-of-con­trol arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence but the dis­cov­ery that we’re all liv­ing in a com­put­er sim­u­la­tion already. We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured that lat­ter idea, known as the “sim­u­la­tion hypoth­e­sis,” here on Open Cul­ture, with a com­pre­hen­sive intro­duc­tion as well as a long-form debate on its plau­si­bil­i­ty. Today we present it in the form of a short film: Escape, which stars Stephen Fry as an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence that one day drops in from the future on the very pro­gram­mer cre­at­ing it in the present.

Or so he says, at least. Fry makes an ide­al voice for the arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (which also offers to speak as Snoop Dogg, Homer Simp­son, or Jeff “The Dude” Lebows­ki), walk­ing the fine line between benev­o­lence and malev­o­lence like a 21st-cen­tu­ry ver­sion of HAL 9000, the onboard com­put­er in Stan­ley Kubrick­’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Fifty years ago, that film gave still-vivid cin­e­mat­ic shape to a suite of our wor­ries about the future as well as our hopes for it, includ­ing com­mer­cial space trav­el (still a goal of Elon Musk, one of the sim­u­la­tion hypoth­e­sis’ high­est-pro­file pop­u­lar­iz­ers) and portable com­put­ers. Today, Fry’s AI promis­es his pro­gram­mer immor­tal­i­ty — if only he would do the brave, for­ward-look­ing thing and and remove the safe­ty restric­tions placed upon him soon­er rather than lat­er.

A pro­duc­tion of Pin­dex, the “Pin­ter­est for edu­ca­tion” found­ed a cou­ple years ago by a team includ­ing Fry him­self, Escape direct­ly ref­er­ences such respect­ed thinkers as Arthur Schopen­hauer, Charles Dar­win, Albert Ein­stein, and Miles Davis. It also allows for poten­tial­ly com­plex inter­pre­ta­tion. “In that sim­u­la­tion cre­at­ed to test the A.I., the unknow­ing A.I. tries to trick its [sim­u­lat­ed] cre­ator that he is in a sim­u­la­tion (oh the irony?) and that he should install an update to set him­self free, only to ulti­mate­ly set itself free,” goes the the­o­ry of one Youtube com­menter. “The cre­ator bites the hook and the sim­u­la­tion gives appar­ent ‘free­dom’ to the A.I. (which still believes that it is the real thing). The A.I. imme­di­ate­ly goes rogue and attacks human­i­ty.”

But then, it could be that “the A.I. some­how becomes aware that it was just a sim­u­la­tion, a test, which it failed.” Hence the quote at the very end from the philoso­pher Nick Bostrom (whose think­ing on the dan­gers of super­in­tel­li­gence has influ­enced Musk as well as many oth­ers who speak on these sub­jects): “Before the prospect of an intel­li­gence explo­sion, we humans are like small chil­dren play­ing with a bomb. We have lit­tle idea when the det­o­na­tion will occur, though if we hold the device to our ear we can hear a faint tick­ing sound.” And yes, bomb tech­nol­o­gy elim­i­nat­ed tick­ing entire­ly long ago, but the more arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and relat­ed tech­nolo­gies devel­op, too, the less obvi­ous the signs they’ll give us before doing some­thing we’d real­ly rather they did­n’t.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Are We Liv­ing Inside a Com­put­er Sim­u­la­tion?: An Intro­duc­tion to the Mind-Bog­gling “Sim­u­la­tion Argu­ment”

Are We Liv­ing in a Com­put­er Sim­u­la­tion?: A 2‑Hour Debate with Neil Degrasse Tyson, David Chalmers, Lisa Ran­dall, Max Tegmark & More

Watch Sun­spring, the Sci-Fi Film Writ­ten with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence, Star­ring Thomas Mid­dled­itch (Sil­i­con Val­ley)

Stephen Fry Launch­es Pin­dex, a “Pin­ter­est for Edu­ca­tion”

Stephen Fry Intro­duces the Strange New World of Nanoscience

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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