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……..

 

Forget David Shearer’s Man Ban but What About Teenagers?


David Shearer’s concept of having electorates where only women can be put forward as candidates has been dropped. The man ban is gone. Personally I think the concept was not only wrong because it fails to look at candidates to represent us solely on merit. Secondly, Labour is already 40% represented by women MP’s. Therefore in my opinion, women are not being discriminated against in the political arena at all. If they considered the best for the job gender doesn’t come into it.

What we don’t have in my opinion is sufficient youth representation. When I was at college I was a member of the Secondary School Students Association and got to meet with senior leaders in education including the late Paulo Freire, leaders of world churches and many others. They sought our thoughts on the future, stating that we were going to be the leaders of the next generations, just as politicians say today.

Yet, other than once every 3 years, when there is a youth parliament, which is coincidentally next week, there is very little consideration to what youth think about the issues. Sure, MP’s visit schools and do handshake photo opportunities with children and listen to their concerts etc, but kids actually come up with some great ideas, not convoluted by the complexities that adults have.

So if we want the children to help create their own future and if some of them want to be involved in politics, (I appreciate there are organisations like the Young Nats), if we really care about proportional representation, why not have some list seats (not electorate seats) and invite a few promising teenagers into parliament. They could be studying political sciences or have other skills or interests. Have them plug into their demographic and represent their interests in parliament.

What do you think?

It’s Super City Election Time – My Question is Drinking Water


Driving home from the office last night, I saw a couple of guys waving from behind their placards as they do in the time leading up to the elections. I wondered if they felt stupid. I didn’t want to wave or beep the horn because I’d never heard of them before and really didn’t know what they were about. Just a couple of guys with wide grins that looked just like the photos they were standing next to.

I’ve had a little ‘junk mail’ from some of them which don’t tend to say much unless they are on the fringe with a cause and hats off to them for that. One was promoting a futuristic rapid transit system which looked absolutely amazing, something looking like it came straight out of New Scientist. He was a mayoral candidate, can’t remember his name because I figured he didn’t stand a chance anyway.

I just have one question for the Mayoral and other political candidates and that’s about our Auckland drinking water. As you may have noted if you are a reader of my blogs, water is a subject dear to me. I’m basically made of it and what’s in it therefore, makes me.

In a previous blog about Oceanic Dead Zones, I coincidentally touched on the fact that the Metrowater back room handshake between the Auckland Mayors of the day, that Waitakere would get first use of all fresh water from the Auckland rainforest dams and the rest of us would get a percentage of Waikato River water when required.

The plan about the Waikato Water (which Joel Cayford said was unsafe to drink) was that it would only be used at times when the dam levels were insufficient to meet Auckland’s needs. However I believe that because it cost something like $10,000 on maintenance costs every time the sluice was opened that most of the time it now stays open, despite its purpose being only for emergency use.

Now I’d like you to have a look at a couple of photos which I will link to. The first is of Dr David Sinclair and Dr Virginia Hope, showing their faith in filtration by drinking Waikato River water. Damn, the other photo I wanted to show you doesn’t seem to be available on the net, but it was of the French Defense Minister Michael Debre, swimming in the Mururoa Atoll lagoon after a nuclear test, to show how safe it was. Enough on that.

What I want to know from the new candidates in Auckland is what is their policy on having Aucklanders drink Waikato River water? Will Waitakere continue to get a monopoly on their fresh water from the West Auckland dams? Will the dams be better maintained (i.e. make them deeper by removing the silt mountain on the bottom?

With all the rain we have in Auckland, we should have much better than acceptable water quality (I noted a politician, can’t remember who it was in the media recently called it).

These are the days and surviving a recession


Within days of a black president being elected as president of America, and a life of protesting against racism, Miriam Makeba has passed away. I pinch myself to check that I’m really living with these experiences and am so grateful to be alive in this era of exciting times, great times and troubled times. I hope that Obama goes on and becomes one of the great presidents, which is a big ask, but it is very necessary.

Meanwhile downunder, Helen Clark has resigned her leadership of the Labour Party having lost the New Zealand election to probably one of the youngest Prime Ministers in our history. To me amongst other things, she represents the Politically Correct which is ironic, because I know she lost many staunch Labour voters in her campaign by trying to make the National Party and John Key in particular look untrustworthy. The TV advertisements at the end of their campaign were all trying to smear John Key instead of focussing on their successes and their future plans, and in my humble opinion, it backfired badly. When you throw mud, some of it stays on your hands and she should have known better. Several people told me that they decided against voting for labour because they didn’t like smear campaigns.

Now we are heading into the biggest recession / depression in living memory. The 30’s and the 80’s will pale in comparison. The depression is a bad thing, but there are different ways of thinking about it and smart people will do well, or at least survive.

Something that has amazed me for some time is how business has teased people, who should know better, to spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need and keep doing it over and over. Retailers and finance companies ought to take some responsibility for what they have done, but many will because their business will dry up. The finance companies will go broke because they loaned money to people that they couldn’t secure and most of the goods had dropped way below their value, the minute they left the showroom.

Banks forgot about their commitment after the 1987 crash. For a while they started looking at people’s ability to pay their mortgages and required that they have at least 20% deposit. Then as property values increased they suddenly decided to finance people with 100% of the loan, figuring that the property values would keep going up and it wouldn’t make any difference. Of course while the mortgages were being paid they were making a tidy profit.

The retailers (including car companies) figured they weren’t taking any risks because it was the finance companies that were lending the money, not them.

Funny really because we often say that instead of employing politicians, who have a short term focus and often little experience in running a business, we should pay a premium and get successful business people to run the biggest business of all, our country. The rational was that in business anyone that went to the board and said, “Whoops I miscalculated and we have half a billion dollars less than we thought”, would be quickly helped into a new career, but it seems business has been doing the same thing and thinking that they can get away with it.

By saturating the market with things they can’t afford (and this hasn’t stopped) with 18 months deferred payment and interest free for another year or so, all they are doing is compounding the crisis. Who wouldn’t be teased into buying a new 42″ LCD widescreen HDTV with freeview built in, especially when the Jones’ have one next door and you don’t have to pay anything for over a year.

So we aren’t just heading into an economic crisis, we are adding fuel to the fire to make the mess even worse and if our government’s are broke, we are walking straight into the arms of the waiting Chinese Government who would be delighted to buy our failing banks and finance companies.

Has everyone taken leave of their senses? Have you taken advantage of a 100% mortgage? Have you bought products on special deals that you wanted but didn’t need? Come on, be honest.

There is potentially an exciting side to this as well. If you were smart and saved money, or invested in assets or property that you could afford and that made sound business sense, you could be looking forward to exciting times. Many of today’s wealthy families made their fortunes in the great depression of the 1930’s. If you were prudent during the boom, you could find yourself on top when the crunch comes, ready to buy into a business or buy some real estate at rock bottom prices and benefit from this situation. Even now it isn’t too late. What are you going to do now?

Christmas is coming. Don’t take that overseas vacation, pay half of the money into your mortgage and have a local holiday. The domestic tourism industry is hurting and you should be able to have a great time enjoying your own back yard. Reduce your debt as quickly as possible and only have debt in things that will increase in value when things come right. I think it’s called delayed gratification.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

Zimbabwe Elections


I started off, over the weekend, writing about the use of SMS as a tool and the many uses and of course I barely scratched the surface, but the whole Zimbabwe election issue is a concern, even from a technological perspective. ITC (information technology and communication) has provided new media including the mobile phone and Internet as a means of sharing information despite the efforts of political rulers. I.e. it is getting harder and harder for people in power to censor information anywhere in the world. Many countries have tried and failed to stop information travelling out of their geography.

Despite the intentions of the Mugabe regime, there is a continuous flow of information leaving Zimbabwe that is telling the rest of the world what is going on. I suspect that it will be impossible for Mugabe’s ZANU-PF to hoodwink the world again, telling everyone that he has won the election when it is clearly not true. Reuters has reported that bloggers are sharing the news with the world as it happens.

Whilst technology can be used to blur the truth, I think we are living in the most transparent environment in mankind’s short history. It is certainly possible to edit photos and video to distort the truth, but given that IT and communications technologies are available to the masses and not just to a wealthy minority and of course we are now much more IT literate, the opportunities to even stretch the truth such as Hilary Clinton’s recent ‘mistake’ about coming under sniper fire in Bosnia recently are becoming few and far between.

Back to Zimbabwe, I believe that largely due to communications and IT, Mugabe will no longer be able to get away with his version of democracy and the transparency of news and event information in real time has finally forced leaders from around the world to denounce what is going on there, even if they have turned a relatively blind eye to it until now.

It’s nice and comfortable to sit at home and watch this happening on TV and on the net, thinking it won’t happen to me. But I’ll bet the expat’s from Zimbabwe that I have met, who now live here and in other parts of the world and have lost pretty much everything they have worked for over generations, thought that once upon a time. Coups happen somewhere in the world pretty much every year and are at least in part covered up with attempts at disinformation and if it doesn’t directly hurt the major powers, it is often conveniently ignored. It’s my opinion that it’s going to be harder and harder for the powers of the world to do this. And that’s a good thing.

People used to say, “As an individual, there’s nothing I can do”. Today in Zimbabwe there are plenty of individuals doing something with their mobile phones and laptops and hopefully they will be able to bring about change, because if they don’t, there could be a civil war of proportions that make the disaster that is Zimbabwe today look like a picnic.