In a fascinating interview, game designer Warren Robinett opens up about the inspiration and obstacles he encountered while creating Adventure, a groundbreaking video game that paved the way for the action-adventure genre.
Photo: Game Access
In a fascinating interview, game designer Warren Robinett opens up about the inspiration and obstacles he encountered while creating Adventure, a groundbreaking video game that paved the way for the action-adventure genre. Robinett shares how he defied his boss's orders and worked tirelessly to prove the feasibility of his vision, ultimately leading to the development of a game that would shape the industry. Discover the intriguing story behind Adventure's conception and the impact it had on subsequent games, including the iconic Legend of Zelda.
What was the inspiration behind creating Adventure? As the earliest example of the action-adventure genre.
Because taking the other job offer I got to write software for printers seemed like it would be incredibly boring. That was a joke, but actually, it's true. I did have a job offer to write software for printers for Hewlett Packard. But I thought taking the job at Atari to design video games... I didn't really know what that meant... but it sounded a lot more interesting than writing software for a printer.
So, a thing to know about the game design situation at Atari in the late 70s was that memory was expensive back then, so you didn't have very much memory in which to put your video game. The amount of memory I had was 4K for Adventure. 4000 bytes of memory for the program and the graphics data. And that was ROM. And for RAM, for the variables, 1 eighth of a K - 128 bytes. So it was very constrained.
And another thing about designing games at Atari was that each game at that time was designed entirely by one person. You had the idea. You wrote the program code. You created the graphics. You created the sound effects. You debugged it. You tested it on kids. You decided if anything didn't work and needed to be fixed. You added features if you thought they were needed. You decided when it was done. You did everything. But the most important thing on that list was that you had the idea. You got to choose the game concept.
So when I was finishing Slot Racers, I was trying to decide what I would work on next. And at that moment in time, my friend Julius Smith took me to the Artificial Intelligence Lab at Stanford University where he worked. I lived in California near Stanford. One mile from Stanford. And so I played this game, the original text adventure, which is now called Colossal Cave Adventure. It was the first text adventure game, so it was a breakthrough program in its own right. But I'd never seen it until that day. And I played it for about three hours. And, you know, worked my way through a little bit of the cave world of Colossal Cave. Enough to see how it worked. You'd type text, two-word text commands. And then it would give you back some text that described where you were and what was happening. And maybe some objects were there. And you could pick up these objects with a text command. Take water, take bird. Something like that. And then you'd be carrying them, and you could use them later to get past obstacles.
So it was a world broken up into cave rooms. And there were objects in it that you could pick up and move around. And then there were obstacles. They were really logical puzzles, where you had to figure out how you could use one of your objects to get past the obstacle. And there were a couple of what you might call creatures in the game that moved around and did things. There was a dwarf that would throw a sharp, nasty knife at you. And there was a pirate that would come and steal your stuff.
So most of the puzzles were static. They were just sitting there waiting to be solved in Colossal Cave. That was my inspiration. I played it for three hours and never touched it again. Didn't finish it. But it was enough to get me to get the idea. And I decided I was going to do that concept - Rooms and objects. Big world to explore, move from room to room. Pick up objects and use them to do things elsewhere. I decided that day that's what I was going to do, in February 1978.
The game had a profound impact on the industry and influenced many subsequent games, such as Zelda. How does it feel to have played a pivotal role in shaping the industry?
It feels good. Well, it gives you confidence to have successes. It makes you want to try something else. It's like being a soccer player. Once you've scored a few goals, you want to score more goals.
How did you approach conceptual and design challenges during the development of Adventure?
Well, there's a phrase for describing my approach. It's called top-down, bottom-up design. In universities, they frequently teach top-down design, where you plan out the whole thing. But that would have been impossible in that situation. And then there's bottom-up design, where you build the crucial pieces first, and then build on top of that. And then there's a synthesis of those two things, where you do them both at the same time. So you have a vague overall plan.
But I never asked myself: "Hey Warren, how do you approach design challenges?" I was just trying to make an interesting game. And the challenges were realizing that what I've got so far is stupid. That's a design challenge. Why is my game boring? That's a design challenge.
I'll back up and tell you the story of how it developed a little bit. I also had some political problems in addition to design problems. At Atari, during that time, you didn't have to make a pitch. You didn't have to ask permission. If you had an idea, you just started working on it. You got a new floppy disk, and you started writing the display routine, which is called the kernel for your new idea. So this was in March and April, let's say, of 1978. I was just finishing Slot Racers, and I started working on the kernel for Adventure. The memory was very small on the Atari 2600 console, but another limitation was that the graphics were very crude. There were five sprites on the Atari 2600 and a low-resolution background. The resolution of the background was 40 pixels across. Each of those fat pixels was equal to four regular pixels. So that was the low-resolution background. The resolution of the screen for that video game was 160 pixels wide and about 100 top to bottom. So it's what you'd call a very low resolution today. But it was enough to make a video game.
I started working on the kernel, the display routine for Adventure, and I had a very good boss when I started at Atari. For the first year I was there, Larry Kaplan. He was one of the guys who later went off and founded Activision. And Larry had already developed two games on the 2600. He understood the job that I was doing. But he actually didn't bother me. He helped me if I asked questions. But what he really wanted was for the people who worked for him to leave him alone so he could work on his game. He didn't really want to be a manager of game designers; he wanted to be a game designer.
So a little bit later, he interviewed some people to take over and manage the game designers so he could go back to full-time game design. The guy he chose was not a very good choice. He was older, not quite as old as me now, but he was older. And he had worked for an aircraft manufacturer, Lockheed. So he believed that engineers should do what management told them. Which is correct for airplanes, but it wasn't correct for Atari video games.
So he heard that I was working on Colossal Cave on the Atari 2600. And he knew that it took 100K on a mainframe to do Colossal Cave, and that the Atari 2600 only had 4K. So based on that information, he came and told me that what I was trying to do was impossible and to stop working on it. Now, from our perspective now, it was a good idea. And I could fit it into the Atari 2600. And it sold 1.3 million copies. So I had a good idea. And I had a boss who didn't understand what I was doing and ordered me to stop. So, what did I do? Things might have been a little bit different if he had asked me how I planned to do it. Because I already had a plan that would work. It did work. But he didn't ask me how I planned to do it. He just flatly told me to stop. Direct order right in my face.
I don't recommend this strategy that I used as a means of keeping your job. But, I thought he was an idiot and I ignored him. And since he worked 8 to 5 and most of the Atari game designers came in at noon and left at 7, I just started working on it at night. But I thought I would make a feasibility demonstration to show him that it was possible on a 2600. And I didn't think I had an unlimited amount of time for that, so I worked on it as hard as I could for 6 weeks. And I did make a basic demonstration that you could have multiple rooms on the 2600 where you had an avatar. It was just a little square, but it was an avatar. You could drive it around on the screen, and then if you went off the edge, pop into a new room. And if you went off the top edge, pop into a room up there. So you could link together as many screens as you wanted to make a large game world. And I hope it's obvious that each of these screens corresponded to a room in the text adventure game.
Here's another design challenge: "Okay Warren, you're going to implement a text adventure on the Atari 2600. So how are you going to represent an object?" Well, the answer was obvious to me. I was going to use a sprite, and it would be a little icon. This was so obvious it wasn't even a problem. Because that's all I had. So I had about 3 objects in my feasibility demonstration. I had a goblet that became the holy grail. I had something that didn't make it into the final game, a Road Runner that would run around. But I couldn't figure out what to do with the Road Runner, so I got rid of it. But in the feasibility demonstration, there was a Road Runner running around. And then I had a dragon that would chase you around. He only had one shape, he didn't eat you, but he would chase you from room to room. And that was pretty good. I had about 6 or 8 rooms. They were in a little 2 by 3 array, and it wrapped around. So there were no boundaries to this world.
I worked very hard on that for 6 weeks, and it was working. And I only used one third of the 4K to do that feasibility demonstration. So then I thought I would show it to George, my boss, because it really did prove that you could do it on the 2600. And his reaction was he was angry that I had disobeyed his orders. And I remember what he said to me: "You are hard to direct." A few months later I told this to one of my fellow game designers, John Dunn, who laughed and said: "I am impossible to direct." And then a little bit later, Ray Kassar (CEO of Atari) said to some reporter that the Atari game designers are "a bunch of high-strung prima donnas."
But you know what their problem was? The switch from the Nolan-Bushnell-controlled company where things were pretty loose. Nolan came to work with a T-shirt that said "I like to fuck." He was the founder. But these guys from New York were control freaks. They had purchased Atari, they owned the company, they fired Bushnell from being chairman, they fired some of the other top executives, and took over.
So I showed George the feasibility demonstration showing that it was feasible. And he ignored that and basically told me I was a bad employee. He wanted me to stop working on it regardless of whether it was feasible or not. I was excited about the concept that I had. But, you know, I was just one 26-year-old guy, I thought I had a good idea. Previously, they let us have ideas and then implement them. But things were changing at Atari. I had a new boss who had the vision of a mole. So I was demoralized and also exhausted. I worked seven days a week, ten hours a day for six weeks. I was tired. So I told George I was going on vacation. I only had one week of vacation at that point but I told him I was going on vacation for a month. He told me to talk to the human resources lady. She said we don't hold jobs at Atari, but I went anyway. So I didn't know if I'd have a job when I got back. But I was just pissed off and demoralized. So that's what I did. I don't recommend this to you. Some of the things I did, I just did because I was mad or demoralized. Because, you know, I thought I had a great, cool opportunity to design video games. And then when these dickheads are stomping on my good idea... I just was not neutral about that.
So, I was gone for a month. I went back to Texas where I'd gone to university and visited my friends there. I drank a few beers with them. Then I went back to my hometown in Missouri and visited my family. And then I came back to California a month later. I thought there might be somebody new sitting at my desk. But no, all my papers were still on the desk. And so they had not fired me while I was gone. But one thing that had happened is George, the boss I didn't like, showed my prototype feasibility demonstration to the Atari marketing department. And so there was some good news and some bad news. The good news was I could continue working on it because marketing liked it. The bad news was I had to turn it into a game about Superman. Because Warner Communications owned the Superman movie that was going to come out in six months, and they wanted a video game to go along with the wave of hype.
Well, that made sense, but I just didn't want to do that. So, I switched strategies a little bit. I decided that maybe just refusing was not such a good strategy since it came from the top. So, we'd have a meeting about once every two weeks in this little group of game designers. Every time this issue came up, I'd say: "I'll do that if I have to, but what I really want to do is make the Dungeons & Dragons-themed game that I started out to make." And so, then there was another meeting two weeks later, and I said the same thing. And another meeting, and I said the same thing. And the fourth time I said it, my fellow game designer, John Dunn, piped up and said: "Hey, Warren, I'll take over your code for Adventure and turn it into Superman. And then that will leave you free to go do your idea." And so, George over there at the head of the table was frowning, but he didn't say no. So, that's what happened. John Dunn took over Adventure and made Superman, and I was allowed to continue with my game. George didn't even want the game.
So, there was actually a positive benefit that came out of this. I had no deadline. George didn't want it. The upper reaches of management didn't really know about it. So, I had time to figure out how to make it an interesting game because the feasibility demonstration wasn't even a game.
I know that, for example, E.T. game for Atari was made in a six weeks. How long did you work on Adventure?
Well, I did another cartridge in the middle of working on Adventure. So, the total length of time I worked on it was 12 months. Maybe 14 months. But I didn't work on it full time because I did another cartridge, BASIC Programming, in the middle of doing Adventure. I actually finished them both, BASIC Programming and Adventure, at the same time. So, I worked on Adventure for about 6 or 8 months in total, full time.
Adventure is known for being the first game to contain what we now call an Easter egg. Along with your credits as the creator, because nobody had done this before. How did you come up with the concept of an Easter egg and including your name?
Well, I didn't call it an Easter egg. Somebody else called it an Easter egg. But I'll tell you how I did it. My job at Atari was kind of a schizophrenic situation. Because it was a wonderful job, as far as the job went. At least the version of it, where I get to have an idea and implement it and my work gets published worldwide. I didn't even understand how good that was at the time. I thought that designing video games sounded interesting. And I had a vague idea that getting published was important and I hadn't really thought about national versus worldwide publication. But that was important too.
The part that wasn't great is that they had promised me royalties when I interviewed. And then, when the New York guys, Warner Communications, took over Atari, they took away the royalties. So, they were cheating me. They reneged on the deal. And the royalties I would have gotten if they had held up their end of the deal would have been six times my annual salary. So, they really were cheating me badly. And then, the other thing was they wouldn't give any public credit for it. Even though each Atari 2600 game was designed and implemented by one person, they wouldn't give that person credit. It was going to be Adventure by Atari. So, I knew that. I had already published Slot Racers, and it was Slot Racers by Atari.
But what could I do? This was a billion-dollar company. There didn't seem to be much of anything I could do. I wanted to finish my game and see it published. And then, about two or three months before I released it and handed it in, I just had a sneaky idea one morning—I could hide my name in one of those rooms and make it hard to get into. This idea was part of a power struggle. There was a little guy (me) on one side. There was the big, bad CEO and the big, bad lawyers of Warner Communications on the other side. So, it was a David versus Goliath story. In real life, David usually gets stomped by the giant, right? But in this case, the little guy won.
The reason I did it is because I was seemingly powerless, but if I really put my mind to work and thought of that situation as a game design problem, was I truly powerless? Maybe there was some weapon hidden in some dark crevice somewhere in the real world that would let me defeat the big, bad giant. The answer was to be sneaky - hide my name in the game, don't tell anybody. I didn't call it an Easter egg, I called it my signature, but I didn't call it anything, because I didn't tell anybody. In my own mind, I called it my signature.
And what was the reception of this signature when people found out?
So, I handed in the code for my last two cartridges in April 1979, Adventure and BASIC Programming. And then, two weeks later, I quit because I had a boss who was treating me as a bad employee, and a CEO who cheated me. There was one thing I did before I quit, though. I also don't recommend this to you. A friend of mine was quitting. This was in early April 1979. And what we always did is we took the guy who was leaving out to lunch and then stayed there at the restaurant all afternoon drinking beer.
So, after four hours of drinking beer, we're complaining about Atari. Tom's leaving, and I decided I was tired of all talk and no action and went over to the pay phone and put in a coin and dialed up the headquarters and asked to speak to Ray Kassar, the Atari CEO. And I told him what was happening. My friend was leaving, we'd been drinking all afternoon, and he invited me to come talk to him right then. It was four o'clock on Friday afternoon. And so, I went over and talked to him, and I had not planned this. It's not a very smart move, really. Well, I didn't know why I did it. I was pissed off. I felt I was being mistreated. And why not talk to the CEO, right? If they'd fired me right then and just used the floppy disk that I had, it already had the signature in it.
So I walked over there and talked to him. For an hour, an hour and a half. At one point, after I'd talked to him for half an hour, he got a call from the guy who was his boss at Warner Communications back in New York. And apparently, both the CEO and the vice president of Warner, his name was Manny Gerard, they'd both played Adventure. And Manny Gerard had told Ray Kassar that all video games are going to be like this in five years. So they told me it was a breakthrough. And I'll tell you how much of a breakthrough, financially. It sold 1.3 million copies at $25 each. Retail, that's $30 million. And they're paying me $20,000 a year.
So they're telling me I made a breakthrough, but they're giving me nothing. No credit. Not even a bonus. I'm capable of talking to people. At one point I asked Kassar what he did every day—because I just was curious what a CEO does. I knew he'd fucked me over financially, but I just wondered what he did every day. And he said he looked at the financial position of Atari every morning. That's what he did in the morning. Somebody was suing Atari for a quarter million dollars because of something that Joe Keenan, the previous president of Atari, had fucked up. And I chickened out from getting into a direct confrontation and demanding money. He didn't offer me anything. He asked me why I was calling and I said I'm pissed off at management. He said, "You're pissed off at me?" And I chickened out. I didn't know who I was pissed off at. I just knew I was unhappy with how things were going.
Then I woke up the next morning and I thought, Warren, what have you done? I figured I'd probably get fired. So I wrote out a little list of things that were wrong at Atari for me. And it had about four headings. And then two days later, on Monday, I went in there and decided to put this in an envelope. This one sheet of paper with things I was unhappy about. I met Kassar on the stairway coming down from the second floor. And he opened it up and read it. I apologized for being incoherent when I met with him three days earlier. But what I was apologizing for was being drunk. And a little bit later, he asked me to not do anything rash. That meant quit. So we communicated in euphemisms. But I was pretty pissed off and I quit anyway.
You already mentioned the Road Runner. So, apart from the Road Runner, were there any other features or other parts of the game that didn't make the cut?
Not really. But there was something I could have done that I didn't do. Memory was really, really, really scarce in the 2600. And RAM memory, there were only 128 bytes. That was the most scarce of all. But I had a design that really got the most out of the memory that was available. And I kept track of how much memory I had remaining as I was developing. I still had 15 bytes of RAM left at the end of development. I could have put three more dragons in the game because they used five bytes of RAM each. Can you imagine? You played Adventure and instead of red, yellow, and green dragons, there could have also been a blue and a purple and the really scary one, the black dragon. But the game seemed to be working pretty well at that point and it seemed to be balanced. The world was a good size compared to how many objects were in it. And nobody got stuck on anything and it just seemed to be working. And I was fearful that I would introduce some problems or that I would screw it up somehow if I threw in a bunch more stuff at the last minute.
Maybe it would have been better with six dragons, but three dragons seemed to be enough, so I didn't change it. But I'll tell you something that didn't get put in it. The Atari 2600 had two controller ports because it was set up for two-player games. But Adventure was a single-player game. It had a joystick, and it went into one of the controller ports. So one day, in the last few months I was there, two months before I left, it occurred to me that I could use the other controller port to make some sort of cable that went to a second Atari 2600 and make it into a two-player game where you could see the other guy's avatar if it came into the same room as you were in. And that sounded interesting, so I actually made the cable and proved that I could encode the button presses on one 2600, send it through this cable to the other controller port, and have that 2600 receive the bit. I mean, you just had to prove that you could send bits in both directions, and it worked. But I didn't have any memory left, so I would have had to take out some part of the game to implement that.
At the time that I quit, I was really quite demoralized because I thought what I'd done was pretty good. But knowing that it sold a million copies, which I found out much later, that was proof that it was pretty good. But back then, it was just me thinking my game was pretty good. But, you know, maybe people usually think their own stuff is better than it actually is, many times. So I didn't really know for sure.
So I could have implemented that (two-player Adventure). That would have taken it to a whole other level if it had been able to do a two-player game. I proved it was possible to send the information both ways, but I didn't work on it any further.
You already talked about Colossal Cave as one of the inspirations for the game. The game got a 3D remake earlier this year for PC and consoles. Does the opportunity to bring a modern remake of Adventure interest you?
Yes, I have wanted to do a sequel of Adventure for 40-some years.
And what's the status?
Well, for the first 20 years, I didn't think anybody was interested in the old games. And I've tried a couple of times. One of my attempts was successful, but not in making a sequel to Adventure. After I left Atari, I met three women who were educators, and we founded The Learning Company, which became a pretty big publisher of educational software. And the very first product of The Learning Company was designed mostly by me. It was called Rocky's Boots, and my original idea for it was it was going to be a game in which you built machines to defeat the monsters. And there were going to be sensors that put out ON-OFF signals, and there were going to be actuators that would do things based on signals that were put into it. And I was going to use AND, OR, and NOT logic gates to connect the sensors to the actuators.
And what happened was my co-founder, Ann Piestrup McCormick, got a grant entitled Early Learning of Geometry and Logic. That's what funded The Learning Company for the first year. And it had logic in the title. So I told her my idea, and she got very excited about it. And I started making this idea, an adventure game where you built machines to defeat the monsters. We didn't have that much money to start out with, and we would have run out of money and gone bankrupt if I had stuck to that concept. So I had to sort of truncate it and make a little logic puzzle game. I first implemented the simulation of the logic gates. This was the first product of The Learning Company, and it was very successful. It won the Software of the Year Award from two magazines in 1983. But it wasn't a sequel to Adventure.
So, since you mentioned educational games, how do you think today's games could be used as educational tools?
I think there are still unexplored possibilities. I think they could be used much better than they are now, but I'm not in very close touch with what's being done now.
Yeah, and apart from your game development and your educational games, you later worked on virtual reality projects with NASA and the University of North Carolina. How did you get involved with these projects, and why does NASA require virtual reality projects?
The way I got involved with those projects is through personal connections. Why was NASA interested in virtual reality? That's a good question. Virtual reality can be used in two ways. You can inhabit a fantasy world that has nothing to do with reality. The other way is you can take virtual reality goggles and maybe some effectors that you can put your hands into, and then you can connect your eyes to the eyes of a telerobot in some dangerous environment, like in orbit or in a vacuum. And when you turn your head, the robot turns its head, and when your hands make gestures, the robot hands mimic those gestures. And if it's all lined up, you can have telepresence in space while you're still down on Earth. Now, there's a little bit of a communication lag problem.
Nobody explained to me why NASA hired me. The Aerospace Human Factors Division at NASA Ames Research Center offered me a job, and there was already a VR project going on there, and I was a pretty good programmer, and I was very interested in that project. I had learned about this idea when I was an undergraduate. I never asked that question, why is NASA interested in VR. I knew I was interested in it.
Your name is quite well-known, even for the younger audience, and that's thanks to the successful book Ready Player One and its movie adaptation. What does it mean to you that younger audience recognize your name, and how do you perceive Ready Player One?
I met the author of Ready Player One—Ernie Cline—after it was published as a book, but before the movie came out. He came through the town that I live in in North Carolina, he was doing a book tour, and I went to lunch with him, and a little later I visited him in Austin, Texas. He's a friend now, and he got me and my wife tickets to the movie premiere in Hollywood. That was pretty fun. I liked the book, Ready Player One, and the movie was pretty good too. Although the reason I liked the movie was that it scared me. This was about five years ago, and it showed drones that were helpfully bringing you pizzas, but then a little bit later, they were bringing you bombs. And I thought, this is going to happen soon. And it's happening right now, isn't it? In Ukraine. It scared me because I said, that is the future we're going to have to live in.
How did it feel when you saw the scene with Adventure at the end of the movie?
I was surprised. Ernie was one of the two screenwriters for the screenplay of Ready Player One. He told me these words: "I fought to keep your name in the script." I didn't know what that meant, specifically. And I also knew that movies get edited after they've been shot. So he might have kept my name in the script, but then it might have been edited out. Because I didn't think saying my name really contributed anything to the movie. If you read about writing novels, which I have, it tells you that you have to keep focused. You have to weed out everything that doesn't contribute to the plot. And saying some guy's name, that's irrelevant to the plot, doesn't contribute anything. In my opinion. Even though it's my name, it's still obvious it wouldn't naturally be in there.
And so, my wife Susan and I are sitting there in the theater in Hollywood, and there's Spielberg up there saying a few words to the audience on the premiere night. And then we watch the movie, and they said my full name, Warren Robinett, three times. And what I thought was, that is weird. It was inappropriate. Why did it happen? Well, Ernie already explained why it happened. And I have to read between the lines a little bit. Ernie was trying to give back. Because he was eight years old when he played Adventure, and it blew his mind when he realized he was seeing a message from the creator. And he used that idea in his novel. And then when they were trying to cut my name out of the script, he pitched a fit. (Thanks, Ernie.)
You truly deserve recognition in the movie for the immense importance of your work on Adventure, which has greatly impacted the entire industry.
Well, thank you. But just because you earned it doesn't mean that you get the goodies. I mean, if there's one theme to the whole story, it's that I had a good idea and I fought for it. And not only did I fight for it, I fought for it intelligently.
How do you think the artificial intelligence will influence games in the future?
I'm not going to answer your question quite directly, but you're part of the media. AI is all over the media right now. And in my estimation, the media as a whole is less intelligent than the individual people that make up the media. It's sort of an organism in its own right. And this is just my theory, I don't know if it's right or not. But it seems to me that the media as a whole has only one room for one idea, one technical idea, in its tiny little brain. And right now, that idea is artificial intelligence. Like, I've lived through two VR hype eras. One was in the early 90s. So for about two years, they talked about virtual reality all the time. And they came to the University of North Carolina, where I was working. I got my 15 seconds on national television.
You want to hear what it took to get on national television? So we had a virtual reality system hooked up to a scanning tunneling microscope that had atomic resolution. You could actually see individual atoms that you scanned. So, I said this to the producer, and he said, 'Say that on camera.'" So I did: "This is as close as anybody will ever get to seeing or touching an atom." So, that's one example of how you play the sound bite game. It's nice and short. It says something provocative.
So, Artificial intelligence means different things in different contexts. In games, there's going to continue to be non-player-controlled characters. That will continue. Are there going to be super-intelligent computers, maybe controlling robots that take over the world and exterminate humanity? It's possible. But, it's impossible to say whether it's probable or it's just the very remote possibility that probably won't happen.
You know, it's your job to ask questions. And then, how do you answer a question like that? There are a lot of questions where nobody knows the answer, but when people get on TV, they like being experts, they're not very likely to say, "I don't know." Maybe even less likely to say, "Nobody knows." But, what I think is, it's pretty damn hard to predict the future. I don't think the danger is imminent.
I will tell you what my best guess is for the future of artificial intelligence. My memory's never been very good, and it's getting worse. But, I can imagine technology advancing to the point where I could get a memory upgrade. Would I still be Warren? Probably. Warren with a better memory is probably still Warren. And my hearing's crapping out at high frequencies. I would love to get a better set of ears. Maybe, some complicated electronics that hangs out in my ear canals? Because, you know, people get artificial hearts now. Why not artificial inner ears? That's probably already happening. What about eyes? Artificial, high-tech eyes that can see in the dark? That have the resolution of an eagle? Probably will happen in the next hundred years. And so, if your organic body starts crapping out, you might be able to grow a clone in a closet in the back of your house. So I think we're going to end up being cyborgs—hybrids of organic bodies and electronic AI. We're going to use our tech to make our senses better and live longer, and we may end up migrating into a different form. I don't think AI is going to take over and exterminate us. I think we're going to merge with it.