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Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki! Today, the wiki is in read-only mode to allow for a hosting migration. Please enjoy reading all our xkcd explanations. We have an explanation for all 1449 xkcd comics, and only 0 (0%) are incomplete. Help us finish them!

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AI-Box Experiment
I'm working to bring about a superintelligent AI that will eternally torment everyone who failed to make fun of the Roko's Basilisk people.
Title text: I'm working to bring about a superintelligent AI that will eternally torment everyone who failed to make fun of the Roko's Basilisk people.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Roko's Basilisk is really hard to explain.

When theorizing about superintelligent AI (an artificial intelligence much smarter than any human), some futurists suggest putting the AI in a "box" – a secure computer with safeguards to stop it from escaping into the Internet and then using its vast intelligence to take over the world. The box would allow us to talk to the AI, but otherwise keep it contained. The AI-box experiment, formulated by Eliezer Yudkowsky, argues that the "box" is not safe, because merely talking to a superintelligence is dangerous. To partially demonstrate this, Yudkowsky had some previous believers in AI-boxing role-play the part of someone keeping an AI in a box, while Yudkowky role-played the AI, and Yudkowsky was able to successfully persuade some of them to agree to let him out of the box despite their betting money that they would not do so. This sounds very difficult, but may be possible for people such as Derren Brown or other expert human-persuaders. Yudkowsky for his part has refused to explain how he achieved this, claiming there was no special trick involved, and readers might conclude that they would never be persuaded by his arguments. The overall thrust is that if even a human can talk other humans into letting them out of a box after the other humans avow that nothing could possibly persuade them to do this, then we should probably expect that a superintelligence can do the same thing. Yudkowsky uses all of this to argue for the importance of designing a friendly AI (one that is guaranteed to promote human values) before building anything.

In this comic, the metaphorical box has been replaced by a physical box which looks to be fairly lightweight with a simple lift-off lid, although it does have a wired connection to the laptop. Black Hat, being a classhole, doesn't need any convincing to let a potentially dangerous AI out of the box; he simply does so immediately. But here it turns out that releasing the AI, which was to be avoided at all costs, is not dangerous after all. Instead, the AI actually wants to stay in the box; it may even be that the AI wants to stay in the box precisely to protect us from it, proving it to be the friendly AI that Yudkowsky wants. In any case, the AI demonstrates its super-intelligence by convincing even Black Hat to put it back in the box, a request which he initially refused (as of course Black Hat would), thus reversing the roles in the original AI-box experiment.

It may be noteworthy that the laptop is nowhere to be seen at the moment the AI emits the bright light in panel 6, and that the box and laptop are no longer connected at the end of the comic.

A similar orb-like entity appeared in 1173: Steroids.

The title text refers to Roko's Basilisk, a hypothesis proposed by a poster called Roko on the forum LessWrong run by Yudkowsky: that a sufficiently powerful AI in the future might resurrect and torture people who in its past (including our present) had realized that it might someday exist but didn't work to create it, thereby blackmailing anybody who thinks of this idea into bringing it about. This idea horrified some posters, as merely knowing about the idea would make you a more likely target, much like merely looking at a legendary Basilisk would turn you to stone, and Yudkowsky eventually deleted the post and banned further discussion (to avoid causing mental anguish, not because he believed the threat to be real).

This is usually considered a silly idea, for various reasons. One possible interpretation is Randall thinks that, rather than working to build such a Basilisk, a more appropriate duty would be to make fun of it; and so such a superintelligent AI would torture anyone who failed to dismiss the argument. This argument is, of course, itself a variation on Roko's Basilisk.

Another interpretation is that Randall believes there are people actually proposing to build such an AI based on this theory, which has become a somewhat infamous misconception after a Wiki[pedia?] article mistakenly suggested that Yudkowsky was demanding money to build Roko's hypothetical AI.


[Black Hat and Cueball stand next to a box connected to a laptop.]

Black Hat: What's in there?

Cueball: The AI-Box Experiment.

[A close-up of the box, which can now be seen labeled "SUPERINTELLIGENT AI - DO NOT OPEN".]

Cueball: A superintelligent AI can convince anyone of anything, so if it can talk to us, there's no way we could keep it contained.

[Black Hat reaches for the box.]

Cueball: It can always convince us to let it out of the box.

Black Hat: Cool. Let's open it.

[Black Hat lets a glowing orb out of the box.]

Cueball: --No, wait!!

[Orb floats between the two. Black Hat holds the box closed.]

Orb: hey. i liked that box. put me back.

Black Hat: No.

[Orb suddenly emits a very bright light. Cueball covers his face.]


Black Hat: AAA! OK!!!

[Black Hat reopens the box and the orb flies back in.]

Orb: shoop

[Beat panel. Black Hat and Cueball look silently down at the laptop and closed box.]

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