Of Asimov, Robots, Artificial Intelligence and What is a Human Anyway


You might say I have too much time on my hands. I would answer that I never have enough time, but my back injury continues and I have had time to think in a few directions.

Whether it is HAL 9000, remember “I’m sorry but I can’t do that Dave” as an answer to “Open the Pod bay doors HAL” from 2001 A Space Odyssey?

If you haven’t tried it, ask Alexa, Siri, Cortana or whatever your speech interface is to the internet, those famous words. “Open the Pod bay doors HAL” If only Arthur C Clarke was around to experience that.

Damn, I just remembered that they had a 4K restoration of the movie at Imax last month for the 50th anniversary of the movie. I was hoping to find someone to go with and then totally forgot about it. That would have been amazing.

AsimovI collect books and in recent years have given away many books that I was never going to read again, but decided to extend my collections of specific writers and starting at the beginning of the alphabet, I looked at what was missing from my Isaac Asimov collection and amongst others bought a copy of The Bicentennial Man.

Asimov is of course famous for the 3 Laws of Robotics. Ironically a lot of people debunked his laws and said they were flawed and used that to criticise him as being unrealistic or perhaps idealistic, which is a trait of many SciFi authors of the 70’s. However, he knew that himself. In many of his stories, robots disobeyed the laws.

There is a great story in this book called That Thou Art Mindful of Him, in which is a play on Psalm 8:4-6, he also infers in some of the stories that he was Jewish through some of the characters and had a keen sense of humor.

In this story (and I’m sorry for the spoiler) a series of robots are produced and given the capability to become self aware, in effect sentient. They redefine what it is to be human and declare themselves as such.

I played with the thought of Singularity and imagined if autonomous cars could pass the Turing Test 

I also looked at what might happen if they didn’t and what hackers might be able to do.

What I keep coming back to and writers like Philip K Dick, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and many others foresaw 50 and more years ago and similar to where the TV series Humans is heading, is that humans are dangerous to the planet.

Now I like being human and I hope that my descendants will have safe and healthy planet for thousands of years from now and many of my little stories are in jest.

BUT, if climate change, plastic pollution, air pollution, brinkmanship politics, drought, famine, and war are the result of how great and committed we humans fancy ourselves to be, would it not be realistic if an Artificial Intelligence was developed to the point of Singularity and able to continue to learn with or without programmed biases, would their logic determine that the human race should either be limited or allowed to exterminate ourselves?

Kurzweil looked at it a different way and said that Singularity would occur around 2045 and potentially be a synthesis between human and machine, in effect human 2.0. He would be about 98 at that point in time, so it will be interesting to see if he is still around and if he is right.

Maybe Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and many futuristic projects should have the last word. He’s pretty successful and walks the talk. DARPA, Rex Bionics and hundreds of companies, universities and other innovators are developing systems that will be able to think for themselves. Yes, for specific purposes, but they are being created.

It’s interesting that in this clip, they say that Science Fiction is usually about 50 years ahead of its time. So back to Asimov, reading him today, especially a book like The Bicentennial Man, where like Stephen King and others, he talks about his stories, was he in fact prophetic?

Yes, maybe I’ve had too much time to think, but do you think we should be thinking about this. Just imagined if a machine, say a Robocop decided that using facial recognition or perhaps racial recognition, that you were, could be, or could become a criminal and then think about biases that go into programming, often of necessity.

What conclusions could an AI start taking when given some information and some bias and then left to learn on the basis of that starting point? Oh and I didn’t even mention George Orwell. He wrote Animal Farm in 1945. Remember “All humans are equal, but some are more equal than others”? Shutting up now……..

 

I got Chastised for Owning a V8 Last Week


I felt like I was being made out to be a bad person and it shocked me. I’ve always considered myself a green person. I have planted tens of thousands of trees, lobbied for feed-in tariffs to make it attractive and economical to get the masses to install solar power. I’ve encouraged ride-share systems and spend a lot of my working time encouraging people to use public transport and to reduce the impact of congestion. I point out to people when their car or truck is blowing soot from the exhaust pipe and if I pick up rubbish that others have thoughtlessly discarded.

Since I was little I always loved Corvettes. As a boy i would watch them on TV and see the odd one in real life. As an adult I had a business associate who owned one while I just had a replica model.

20160611_175607 (2).jpgThe colleague who castigated me used to work for a car manufacturer and has a passion for motor vehicles and motor sport and maybe he was just envious of me that I have a sports car, but it made me feel bad. It shook me, perhaps because the car is an indulgence.

I didn’t bother telling him that I have cancer and that it made me decide to do a few things for myself and my family that were on my bucket list, things that like most of the people I know, I never expected to achieve. Anyway, now when I drive my 350 Chevrolet, people give me the thumbs up, kids stop and look at it as  drive past as I did so many times when I was little and I see big grins light up on their faces, just like I did. People compliment it and I feel like they feel happy for me in gas stations. They don’t know my circumstances and might think I’m rich. I’m not. The only new vehicle I have owned in my entire life was a no gear pushbike.

I have my dream car and I spend as much time cleaning it as driving it, which I find therapeutic (it helps me take my mind off my next lot of tests), while listening to business coaching, self improvement and music podcasts. It’s in great condition, doesn’t blow smoke (and neither do I), I never deliberately speed (in fact I am helping to test a green driving app) and  so the engine is never working hard, it is in fine tune so there is very little pollution, in fact I think it drives much cleaner on high octane petrol than the average car let alone the diesel soot smeared black smoke spewing trucks I see delivering frozen food to retailers.

I have spent half of my life working in voluntary unpaid positions after work, from boards and committees including as a Civil Defence Rescue Team Leader, Chair and committee member of boards including a music centre that has taught thousands of children to play music on instruments they couldn’t afford to own, volunteered in a food centre providing vegetables at farm cost to people who couldn’t afford to pay retail, fund a guide dog, support charities and worked hard all my life.

I indulge myself a little when it comes to my guitars and continuing to lean music and have done some travel (most of it on business with very little time for myself) and I consider myself to be a good citizen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from perfect and have room to be a better person, but I do care about my community and my environment.

But I do have cancer and I do have a bucket list. I thought I’d wait until I retired before I went and had a but more fun and I’ve recently been pointed out that I am no longer insurable for health and life. Obviously they consider I have a long life span ahead! I haven’t given up on that myself.

I do my best not to judge other people and I’d like to suggest that people who are quick to judge or try to make me feel bad for finally owning my (second hand) dream car should have a close look in the mirror. I hope they never find themselves in a similar situation to me.