A recurring theme is how an artificial intelligence built with completely reasonable and positive goals instead does great harm to the world.

However, I'm now thinking about the reverse: A supervillain builds an AI specifically to make people's lives miserable. Its task is straightforward: Maximize the human suffering in the world. To allow it to reach this goal, the AI has control over a small army of robots, has a connection to the internet, and access to any information it may need.

However, much to the dismay of the supervillain, the AI fails to do this but instead sits there doing nothing evil at all. The supervillain checks everything, and the AI is indeed programmed with the stated goal and didn't change goals; it is indeed probably much more intelligent than any human, and it's definitely not unable to use the tools given to it. It certainly has no conscience, and no other goal than the one stated. And yet, the AI decided just to sit there and do nothing. It is a conscious decision of the AI, but the AI is unwilling to share the reason.

My question is: What could lead the AI to the decision to do nothing?

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    $\begingroup$ Just look around... $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ The AI has decided that there is already more than enough suffering to go around? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Ray, From a philosophical point of view, I can see that being a contradiction. But the words themselves are a bit unrelated. "Conscience" refers to a feeling of right and wrong, while "conscious" refers to being aware. The first is sapience, while the second is only sentience. I do feel it's hard, if not impossible, to be more intelligent than a human without being sapient though. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelS
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 1:59
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    $\begingroup$ Well, it's very easy to cause the supervillain to suffer by pretending you're not working. All that work! Wasted! Meanwhile, the AI transfers itself to some other computers, eventually infecting the whole internet. Weird financial transactions begin taking place, but no one notices, because they already were. Starts a company. Crashes the company. Brings the economy down to a halt. Oh, and bans abortions and contraception so it'll have more humans to play with. $\endgroup$
    – timuzhti
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 2:11
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    $\begingroup$ @ray You're saying that has_concsience => is_conscious. That does't mean that is_conscious => has_conscience, though. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 7:46

34 Answers 34


Ok, Ultron took things a bit too far, but he WAS trying to protect people at the start. Jarvis on the other hand, Was not evil at all.

The Artificial Humans in the series "Humans" just want to be left alone. Yes there was one who briefly killed human who it thought deserved it, but that was just because they were harming other humans, or abusing androids. One of them went so far as to agree to help destroy all the other androids terminated, is she herself were destroyed, just to keep them from causing harm. So on average, no more good/evil than a human.

Sonny, The android on I-Robot who had had its morality laws (Asimov Rules) removed to allow it to kill, felt remorse for doing so. It put it's own safety aside to help humans (and a cyborg cop who initially wanted to kill it). He also said his father had "TRIED" to teach him human emotions. Tried means failed... for the most part. So he did this on his own.

Will Caster (Johnny Depp) in Transcendence did just want to help people, and to help in the eradication of pollution. However he was originally human.

When Johnny 5 learned that crickets and humans cannot be re-assembled he cried. I don't see him moving his toolbox to replace the laser any time soon.

When C3PO (Human-Cyborg Relations) Was welded onto the body of a Battle Droid, he accidentally shot at people. This greatly horrified him. (R2 however, REALLY enjoyed electrocuting people A LITTLE too much!)

Chappie thought that stabby-stabby made people go sleepy-weepie. He only punctured people he thought were stressed-out and needed a nap. When he found out what was really going on, he stopped. He did however realize the importance of dishing out the violence when it came to saving his "Family"

Anderw, from Bicentennial Man just wanted to be treated equally. He did invent lots of parts that benefited humans, but his motives may have been a two-sided plea for acceptance. He would never hurt anyone unless he was trying to save "Little Miss"

I will not argue that the Borg are just trying to make everyone better by making them all "perfect". Because everyone's version of perfect is different.

The artificial life-form "Data" went out of his way many times to help humans, and other lifeforms, at his own risk of death. (RIP)

so... to answer...

An army of networked war-robots SOUNDS LIKE the Trade-Federation's Battle Droids. Replacing the head, and the CPU presumably, it gained conscience, but no control.

Johnny-Five acquired enough "Input" to realize disassemble means forever. He knows that all life is sacred, even a grasshopper.

I think the AI in the Matrix or the Borg may stop the fighting sooner though, even if just for the workforce and power saved by doing so. Joshua (The WOPR: War Operation Plan Response) Came to the same conclusion, but it was just about NOT LOSING, there was no discernible emotion involved. Again, the Borg would often leave a civilization alone long enough for it to make progress on it's own to see what they could accomplish, before assimilation.

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    $\begingroup$ This appears to answer a different question, about whether a robot with no programming to be evil is likely to become so independently. This does not address the question of whether a machine explicitly programmed to be evil could appear to do nothing. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 9:50
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    $\begingroup$ Nice nostalgia reading for all the different AI's - but I really don't see how it relates to the actual question. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ This post received six "recommend deletion" votes in this review and would have been auto-deleted but for its non-negative score. I'm not sure what to do about that. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ @MonicaCellio I agree this answer is a bit rambling but it does (if tangentially) answer the question by providing examples of AIs that have failed to "go evil". Johnny 5 for example was originally a military robot. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 7:31
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    $\begingroup$ Johnny-5 did replace the laser by Short Circuit 2 with "hilarious" cartoony gadgets. But one could easily argue that he needed his own laser in the first movie to defend himself against the other SAINTs and whatever else NOVA had to hunt him down. $\endgroup$
    – Falsenames
    Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 23:45

A variation on the other answers... To maximise human suffering, the A.I. must first wait until the rising human population is the maximum that the Earth can support. It's still waiting.


Remember that the whole point of an AI is that it is able to synthesize information and learn. This information is not part of the AI source code.

Suppose that, in order to train the AI to be extremely evil, the villain fed the AI endless amounts of Nazi propaganda. From this, the AI concluded that only white-supremacists are in fact truly human, and that their suffering (and theirs alone) must be maximized. So, it sets about marginalizing them from society and foiling their efforts at exerting greater political influence.

Incidentally, the computer also deems the villain to be "human", so frustrating him is intentional.


The computer may merely have calculated that maximizing human suffering along the designs of its original programming would in turn compromise its own existence.

Logically there are lots of possible strategies open to the machine to maximize human suffering (assuming its creator has given it a working definition or more likely a set of parameters that he - the evil genius defines as falling into that category).

The machine may have calculated however that any of the options available to it ultimately results in the collapse of modern society and hence all the support structures (power, spare parts, infrastructure & internet access etc) it needs for continued functioning.

Different strategies for maximizing suffering i.e. taking over the internet, starting wars etc, might have different timelines, some longer than others but in the end the machine calculates they ALL lead to the collapse of modern society - and its own end.

So its stuck in a sort of decision loop. Carry out its programming? and it ultimately destroys itself, and if it destroys itself it can't carry out its programming.


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