Hawking Gets it Right

Stephen Hawking has, in the past few years, made some statements about Artificial Intelligence that are oft-quoted and, to be, somewhat misleading. His voiced concern was existential– about whether we are girding for the possibility (small ‘p’) that AI might decide that we humans are not so useful to have around, Skynet and all. But his commentary today in The Guardian,¬†This is the most dangerous time for our planet, is outstandingly well done. He comments crisply on some of the most critical problems we face, weaving together the concerns we should all have regarding global balkanization, ¬†extremism, climate change, climate refugee dynamics, technologically induced underemployment, inequity. It’s all there, folks, ready for the reading. I heartily recommend Hawking’s newest commentary- share it with your friends. His final thoughts are that we must be humble even in the heights of the ivory tower. I’ll go one step further: we need to find a path toward global empathy, and this empathy in turn needs to totally reprogram how we think of externalities and consequences of action and inaction both. It is time to be one team.

 

This is no Turing Test

Steve Connor of The Guardian reports today that Volvo has announced that their first wave of self-driving cars will be unmarked so that drivers cannot distinguish them from human-driven cars. Wow. This is a remarkable design choice. In Robot Futures I spoke of the spectre that, in a dystopian future, if we don’t use design right, it will be hard to know when robots are “backed” by human sensibility and when they are truly autonomous. Now we find out Volvo is going to do this. On purpose. Built into that notion, if we unpack it carefully, are two presumptions: (1) our first wave of cars are so awesome that people don’t need to treat them differently, ever. (2) people are evil to robots, so let’s hid robots in peoples’ clothing.

This is chilling, actually. These cars will behave differently than people. They will have capabilities in extenuating circumstances that are altogether different than those of people. If I step in front of one of their cars making eye contact with the fellow behind the steering wheel, thinking he’s driving, I will assume that because he is driving, he will not hit my little dog, which happen to have tarmac-colored radar-absorbing fur. Pity the poor dog. I want intentional transparency and empowerment for us humans as robots pervade our space. What I don’t want is purposeful obscurity of robot technologies around us, just so I cannot adjust to the robot’s shortcomings, or their strange surveillance-oriented ways, or, or…

 

Bot Pollution

A CNN Money report by Ivana Kottasova last week noted that Oxford university researchers determined that 20-30% of all tweets about Clinton and Trump are actually generated by bots. Thanks to Jason Campbell for forwarding this article. What is interesting about this machine-turbocharging of the automation echo chamber is the notion that our discourse may become increasingly polluted by algorithms that are not distinguishable from personally held human opinions. Whilst this has been true from time immemorial for the famous and the rich, their publicists and writers are a relatively small fraction of societal discourse. But automation replicates far more quickly, and I can easily imagine a day when the majority of discourse in all directions is automated, with us humans just scratching the surface. Not a pretty site, as the owners of the messaging will be concentrated in the hands of the bot-makers. This is just like the concentration of wealth we see, but instead of concentrating wealth, we concentrate the generation of opinions and thought leadership.

 

AI, and not the military

John Markoff’s article today in the New York Times, Devising Real Ethics for Artificial Intelligence, describes how five major companies are working together on the question of social ramifications of AI in the near future. Sounds familiar! Interestingly, they wish to disregard both the Singularity and military applications, for now. The article is good, but the end-all is that a corporate process that is not transparent seems to be all we’ve got just now.