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……..


Arthur C Clarke RIP

It’s almost as if you think that some people will live for ever, but at 90 years of age Arthur C Clarke has had a pretty good innings, but it is still very sad to hear of his passing today. I’ve written before of the importance of Science Fiction as a predictor of future technology and behaviour and Clarke is no exception.

As both a scientist and a writer of great and thoughtfull fiction, he has left a legacy of some importance as it is likely that many inventors and developers have been influenced by his stories. of course he did also write a considerable amount of non-fiction, but that wasn’t really my interest.

It is said that although he didn’t conceive the concept of geosynchronous satellites, he certainly propogated it around the end of World War ll, when he served in the Royal Airforce as a radar specialist. In honor of his writing and ideas about stallites which would follow the rotation of the Earth so that they stayed above the same spot for 24 hours a day, the International Astronomical Union named this orbit as a ‘Clarke Orbit’.

In my working world this is part of the legacy that we now enjoy in our GPS products, but also the Satellite TV I watch most days of the week, that gives me access to news, sport and entertainment from around the world in near real time.

He also gave us a lot to think about in 2001 A Space Oddysey which is still one of my favorite movies of all time, when the computer on his space ship Hal 9,000 was given artifical intelligence and thought of itself as a living being with emotions and which didn’t bow to the concepts such as Asimov’s 3 Law’s of Robotics that said that no Robot could ever hurt a human being, even if told to by one. I guess that was a little over the top, given that part of many human beings desires are to hurt and kill other human beings. Nevertheless I have no doubt that scientists developing artifical intelligence from nanobots to military jets will have cut their teeth on some of Clarke’s books.

Clarke will not be forgotten, he has left a legacy in science and techology, in film, in books and has had an impact on the world as we know it. Thanks for the ride Arthur:)