Sunday, July 26, 2009

Who's outwitting who?

Greetings good citizen,

For as long as there has been machinery, the dreamers amongst us have envisioned utopia, a place where machines do the work, leaving you free to do, um, more important things…

Yeah, that’s the ticket! Naturally, these dreamers think ‘everybody’ will have access to their own personal robot army that attends to their every need…paying for the robots is a minor matter and maintaining them isn’t even a consideration, the robots will fix themselves (or at the very least, each other.)

Soooooo, what do you suppose you’d do for a living in a totally automated world? Design robots?

While we are far from the day when robots think for themselves, it is not unreasonable to pin part of today’s crisis on ‘automated processes’ that have eliminated the need for millions of ‘man hours’.

Yeah good citizen, your boss is only half joking when he quips he could get a ‘monkey’ (or a robot) to do what you do…and robots are once and done. They never need a break, don’t draw a paycheck and only complain when something is ‘really wrong’ (like the parts aren’t coming out right.)

Pretty soon the only jobs will be servicing robots or ‘servicing’ their rich owners…

This is a multi-faceted issue that we won’t delve into fully right now, but those paving the way for an ‘automated future’ have already turned their attention to ‘the killing machine’.

On to tonight’s offering

Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man

Published: July 25, 2009

A robot that can open doors and find electrical outlets to recharge itself. Computer viruses that no one can stop. Predator drones, which, though still controlled remotely by humans, come close to a machine that can kill autonomously.

Impressed and alarmed by advances in artificial intelligence, a group of computer scientists is debating whether there should be limits on research that might lead to loss of human control over computer-based systems that carry a growing share of society’s workload, from waging war to chatting with customers on the phone.

Their concern is that further advances could create profound social disruptions and even have dangerous consequences. [Don’t blink good citizen, we’re already there!]

As examples, the scientists pointed to a number of technologies as diverse as experimental medical systems that interact with patients to simulate empathy, and computer worms and viruses that defy extermination and could thus be said to have reached a “cockroach” stage of machine intelligence.

While the computer scientists agreed that we are a long way from Hal, the computer that took over the spaceship in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” they said there was legitimate concern that technological progress would transform the work force by destroying a widening range of jobs, as well as force humans to learn to live with machines that increasingly copy human behaviors.

The researchers — leading computer scientists, artificial intelligence researchers and roboticists who met at the Asilomar Conference Grounds on Monterey Bay in California — generally discounted the possibility of highly centralized superintelligences and the idea that intelligence might spring spontaneously from the Internet. But they agreed that robots that can kill autonomously are either already here or will be soon. [the US military along with other nations are actively seeking this sort of ‘tool’ (a robot capable of recognizing ‘enemies’.) Mobile weapons platforms have existed for a long time but weapons platforms kill anything that crosses their path, friendly or otherwise…]

They focused particular attention on the specter that criminals could exploit artificial intelligence systems as soon as they were developed. What could a criminal do with a speech synthesis system that could masquerade as a human being? What happens if artificial intelligence technology is used to mine personal information from smart phones?

The researchers also discussed possible threats to human jobs, like self-driving cars, software-based personal assistants and service robots in the home. Just last month, a service robot developed by Willow Garage in Silicon Valley proved it could navigate the real world.

A report from the conference, which took place in private on Feb. 25, is to be issued later this year. Some attendees discussed the meeting for the first time with other scientists this month and in interviews.

The conference was organized by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, and in choosing Asilomar for the discussions, the group purposefully evoked a landmark event in the history of science. In 1975, the world’s leading biologists also met at Asilomar to discuss the new ability to reshape life by swapping genetic material among organisms. Concerned about possible biohazards and ethical questions, scientists had halted certain experiments. The conference led to guidelines for recombinant DNA research, enabling experimentation to continue.

The meeting on the future of artificial intelligence was organized by Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft researcher who is now president of the association.

Dr. Horvitz said he believed computer scientists must respond to the notions of superintelligent machines and artificial intelligence systems run amok.

The idea of an “intelligence explosion” in which smart machines would design even more intelligent machines was proposed by the mathematician I. J. Good in 1965. Later, in lectures and science fiction novels, the computer scientist Vernor Vinge popularized the notion of a moment when humans will create smarter-than-human machines, causing such rapid change that the “human era will be ended.” He called this shift the Singularity.

This vision, embraced in movies and literature, is seen as plausible and unnerving by some scientists like William Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Other technologists, notably Raymond Kurzweil, have extolled the coming of ultrasmart machines, saying they will offer huge advances in life extension and wealth creation.

“Something new has taken place in the past five to eight years,” Dr. Horvitz said. “Technologists are replacing religion, and their ideas are resonating in some ways with the same idea of the Rapture.” [If you’re not frightened, you should be.]

The Kurzweil version of technological utopia has captured imaginations in Silicon Valley. This summer an organization called the Singularity University began offering courses to prepare a “cadre” to shape the advances and help society cope with the ramifications. [Understand that the single largest ‘ramification’ will be being made ‘redundant’.]

“My sense was that sooner or later we would have to make some sort of statement or assessment, given the rising voice of the technorati and people very concerned about the rise of intelligent machines,” Dr. Horvitz said.

The A.A.A.I. report will try to assess the possibility of “the loss of human control of computer-based intelligences.” It will also grapple, Dr. Horvitz said, with socioeconomic, legal and ethical issues, as well as probable changes in human-computer relationships. How would it be, for example, to relate to a machine that is as intelligent as your spouse? [Let’s take that thought one step further and make the machine your boss, how would you ‘deal’ with that turn of events?]

Dr. Horvitz said the panel was looking for ways to guide research so that technology improved society rather than moved it toward a technological catastrophe. Some research might, for instance, be conducted in a high-security laboratory.

The meeting on artificial intelligence could be pivotal to the future of the field. Paul Berg, who was the organizer of the 1975 Asilomar meeting and received a Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1980, said it was important for scientific communities to engage the public before alarm and opposition becomes unshakable.

“If you wait too long and the sides become entrenched like with G.M.O.,” he said, referring to genetically modified foods, “then it is very difficult. It’s too complex, and people talk right past each other.”

Tom Mitchell, a professor of artificial intelligence and machine learning at Carnegie Mellon University, said the February meeting had changed his thinking. “I went in very optimistic about the future of A.I. and thinking that Bill Joy and Ray Kurzweil were far off in their predictions,” he said. But, he added, “The meeting made me want to be more outspoken about these issues and in particular be outspoken about the vast amounts of data collected about our personal lives.”

Despite his concerns, Dr. Horvitz said he was hopeful that artificial intelligence research would benefit humans, and perhaps even compensate for human failings. He recently demonstrated a voice-based system that he designed to ask patients about their symptoms and to respond with empathy. When a mother said her child was having diarrhea, the face on the screen said, “Oh no, sorry to hear that.”

A physician told him afterward that it was wonderful that the system responded to human emotion. “That’s a great idea,” Dr. Horvitz said he was told. “I have no time for that.”

There’s a lot of ‘yin and yang’ here good citizen, perhaps it is best to remain mindful that the developers of these technologies are primarily interested in profiting from them.

It is the ‘human condition’. Profits first, safety afterwards.

Um, some less scrupulous, er, organizations have been rather aggressive in their pursuit of profits. You know Monsanto is, er, deeply disappointed by the rejection of their innovations in food technology.

Ironically, it’s not too big a step to go from food that is more ‘productive’ to food that is actually addictive…but I digress, we were on the subject of robots and in particular, killer robots.

Machines don’t have to become a lot ‘smarter’ than they are now to destroy the global economy. Their ability to produce faster than we can consume has already upset economic ‘flows’.

Let us return briefly to our ‘dreamers’ that imagine a brighter future through robotics…the loose wheel in this idea is not everyone will be able to afford to purchase, much less deploy, an army of robots to do their bidding.

Worse, imagine Napoleon or Hitler with such an army of ‘automatons’ at their command.

I mean, why develop killing machines if you don’t intend to use them?

They want these machines (that won’t refuse commands nor turn squeamish when it comes to firing on say, unarmed civilians…) they aren’t pursuing this technology solely because they can. Soldiers that will follow any order without question are every despot’s dream…and robots are the answer to that dream.

Every technological development is pursued on the basis that it will make life better for us all…this time around it looks like we have a development on our hands that is intended to benefit the chosen few.

Not that we possess the means to stop those determined to command such forces for themselves.

In a world that has repeatedly placed profits over people, this is an extremely disturbing development.

Thanks for letting me inside your head,


No comments:

Post a Comment