Steve Wozniak, the technical founder of Apple, is reported to have resigned himself to life as the pet of a robot.
Unlike the Terminator SkyNet view of the future, Wozniak believes that, as robots become more intelligent than us, they will also be benevolent, recognizing the value of earth's natural resources. Which includes us! Thus they will be motivated to look after us like pets. Rather sweetly, Mr Wozniak explains that he is preparing for the future by being really nice to his dog, feeding him steaks and burgers, on the 'do unto others ...' principle.
From friendly 'emotional assistants' like Pepper Robot to more sinister robots being developed through the US Military DARPA program, the news lately has been full of stories about robots and the development of Artificial Intelligence.
There is a tendency for us to believe that as robots develop, they will overtake us and either treat us like pets (Mr Wozniak) or seek to exterminate us (The Terminator). Neither of these futures are very attractive, yet so-called experts talk about this happening within about a hundred years.
Whilst this might make for entertaining Hollywood movies, the proponents seem to understand nothing of themselves and to fall prey to a form of mereological fallacy. For example, when an Apple engineer claims that Siri 'understands' (as he does during this video), he is confused.
It is worth you, the reader, reflecting for a moment on how well you understand your own feelings and intelligence. How old are you? How much have you learned about yourself and others in your life? Do you sometimes get a glimpse into what it might be like to be another person? Does that empathy modify how you feel about others; your understanding of why they do what they do?
After a moment's contemplation, we might remember that we humans have been around for a very long time. It took hundreds of thousands of years for language and society to develop. Yet we still do not know how we think. We do not know how we see. We do not know how memory works. (Did you know there is an emerging view that we use 'the world out there' as our short-term memory?).
Given our ignorance of ourselves, how are we going to program computers to think, to be intelligent, to develop? And so much more quickly than we have? Do computer programmers (for it is they who will program the robots) know so much more about learning and development than the rest of us?
Our own development has been painfully slow, yet we pay attention when someone from Google claims that within fifteen years 'nanobots' will be implanted in the human brain to help us think! A ludicrous idea, given the problems that the neuro-scientific community has with understanding the brain.
A much more useful, and less expensive, idea about human development is to be found in Holland. The small Dutch city of Utrecht is to conduct a human experiment. They plan to discover what will happen when a group of people are paid a basic salary, regardless of whether they work or not.
They ask: "What happens if someone gets a monthly amount without rules and controls? Will someone sitting passively at home or do people develop themselves and provide a meaningful contribution to our society?"
The results from such a simple experiment will have the potential to transform our attitude to society, work and robots.
Posted by Nicholas Moore 1:59:07 PM