This is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but with a paper clip. In this scenario, the designers of the world’s first artificial superintelligence need a way to test their creation. So they program it to do something simple and non-threatening: make paper clips. They set it in motion and wait for the results — not knowing they’ve already doomed us all. Before we get into the details of this galaxy-destroying blunder, it’s worth looking at what superintelligent A.I. actually is, and when we might expect it.

Firstly, computing power continues to increase while getting cheaper; famed futurist Ray Kurzweil measures it “calculations per second per $1,000,” a number that continues to grow. If computing power maps to intelligence — a big “if,” some have argued — we’ve only so far built technology on par with an insect brain. In a few years, maybe, we’ll overtake a mouse brain. Around 2025, some predictions go, we might have a computer that’s analogous to a human brain: a mind cast in silicon. MORE