Kurt Vonnegut’s view of AI

I re-read “The Sirens of Titan” by Kurt Vonnegut, a book I have read a few times but I always find new angles in it. Kurt Vonnegut is a writer who likes to ask the Big Questions.

In this case I thought the following passage could be viewed as a pretty accurate comment on AI:

“Once upon a time on Tralfamadore there were creatures who weren’t anything like machines. They weren’t dependable. They weren’t efficient. They weren’t predictable. They weren’t durable. And these poor creatures were obsessed by the idea that everything that existed had to have a purpose, and that some purposes were higher than others.
These creatures spent most of their time trying to find out what their purpose was. And every time they found out what seemed to be a purpose of themselves, the purpose seemed so low that the creatures were filled with disgust and shame.
And, rather than serve such a low purpose, the creatures would make a machine to serve it. This left the creatures free to serve higher purposes. But whenever they found a higher purpose, the purpose still wasn’t high enough.
So machines were made to serve higher purposes too.
And the machines did everything so expertly that they were finally given the job of finding out what the highest purpose of the creatures could be.
The machines reported in all honesty that the creatures couldn’t really be said to have any purpose at all.
The creatures thereupon began slaying each other, because they hated purposeless things above all else.
And they discovered that they weren’t even very good at slaying. So they turned that job over to the machines, too. And the machines finished up the job in less time than it takes to say “Tralfamadore”.

I guess that pretty much sum’s up this, and other books by the same author. It is typically a very dark opinion wrapped in a light-hearted way. In this case a chilling summary of many opinions on the future of AI. As such it shares a common theme with Rossum’s Universal Robots by Carel Kapek which arguably started the genre.