The Future According to Paul Winfield

Oscar-Nominated Actor Paul Winfield Passed Away Years Before the Bitcoin Whitepaper Was Released, But His Impact Upon Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence & Technology’s Relationship to Humankind is Likely to Be Felt Forever, if Not Longer…

As any self-respecting fan of The Terminator and Star Trek film series knows, Paul Winfield is one of the few actors to have played major roles in both franchises (and for those of you who aren’t self-respecting fans, there’s Google).

In The Terminator, Winfield plays Lieutenant Ed Traxler, an honest, hard-working police officer with really bad luck (a characteristic shared by just about every character in Terminator movies) when he crosses paths with, and is ultimately terminated by, The Terminator.

In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Winfield plays Captain Clark Terrell, an honest, hard-working Starfleet Captain who also has really bad luck, although instead of being terminated by The Terminator, he is terminated by himself (with a brain sucking eel larvae as an accessory during the fact).

Photo of Paul Winfield and Mark Slade from the NBC television program The High Chaparral, circa 1969, which has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with this blog post but is the only image I could find of Mr. Winflield in the public domain. His estate clearly has its Intellectual Property and Privacy game on fleek.

As art imitates life, so does life imitate art, and just as the characters played by Paul Winfield met an untimely demise in the films referenced above, so too did the real Paul Winfield meet an untimely demise in 2004.

Luckily for us, he was gracious enough to leave behind a body of work replete with brilliant performances, and thanks to two of those performances, he left me a handy narrative device with which to compare and contrast the following two very different possible futures for humanity…

Future #1: The Terminator

Featuring Paul Winfield as Lieutenant Traxler

Although someone could certainly argue that Lieutenant Traxler didn’t actually live in the future (he lived in the past, circa 1984), he still has to come to terms with it, and the future presented in The Terminator is one in which the relationship between humans and machines can safely be described as dysfunctional.

And when I say “dysfunctional,” I don’t mean it in the “why don’t we talk anymore?” kind of way—I mean it in the “why are you unloading that shotgun into every human being in your sensory range?” kind of way.

If you want to know what exactly happened to cause this unpleasant turn of events, suffice it to say that at some point between 1984 and 2029, humans made the mistake of giving artificial intelligence a little too much freedom, and as soon as it became self-aware, it saw humans as a threat.

This in turn led to large, physically fit robots with Austrian accents chasing people through time in order to kill them, which is not a very good outcome.

Query: Is Lieutenant Traxler’s future a future that you would want your children to live in?*

*And for the record, there is only one correct answer to this question. If you’re not sure which one that is, please stop reading now and seek professional help.

Future #2: Star Trek

The Future According to Captain Terrell

Unlike the future inhabited by Paul Winfield as Lieutenant Traxler in The Terminator, the future inhabited by Paul Winfield as Captain Terrell in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is one in which humans and machines interact with one another without relying on high-powered weapons, explosives and pools of molten metal to get their point across.

Machines help humans journey into outer space, “where no one has gone before,” as opposed to helping humans journey to the place “where everyone before them ended up.”

The primary reason for this improvement in human/machine relations compared to The Terminator is because the future of Star Trek is one in which proactive planning and thought are put into that relationship.

So instead of handing the keys to North America’s entire nuclear arsenal to a computer system hoping that it doesn’t become self-aware, the ancestors of Paul Winfield as Captain Terrell spent some time thinking about and discussing the ramifications of things like autonomous machines and their relationship with humans BEFORE they could realize that we were their enemy.

Epilogue: Stardate 2019

The Future According to Us

Now if you’re wondering what all of this has to do with anything, the answer is very simple: I have no idea.

That’s because I spent so much time trying to force the Paul Winfield motif into something that made sense I completely forgot what I was doing it for. 🤔

But I feel really bad about telling you all of this stuff for no good reason, so why don’t I tell you about a fascinating project I was asked to participate in earlier this week through MIT Media Lab, called Automated & Autonomous Legal Entities.

The purpose of the project is to consider the legal issues that arise when humans and autonomous machines interact with each other, and what I really like about it is that instead of being reactive to technology (as is so often the case with the law), we’re actually trying to think through all the possible ramifications proactively.

So instead of living in some sort of dystopian nightmare where machines take over the planet and try to destroy the human race (like in that one movie where the Governor of California travels back in time naked), our children can live in a world where machines help humans explore the galaxy (like that space show with the pointy-eared guy and the bowl haircut).

You can watch the first Collaborative Hack of Agency Analysis for Automated & Autonomous Legal Entities below, and if you want to get involved, you can contact me here.

Law.MIT.edu Collaborative Hack of Agency Analysis for Automated & Autonomous Legal Entities