I am going out on a limb here trying to better understand our future and those who now have a hand in changing our lives to make it better — or worse — depending on your personal bent.
In almost every informational email I receive, there is reference to robotics in the workplace and our daily lives. As I mentioned in last month’s articles attesting to the coming explosion of robotics in the workplace — including in those places least expected — the possibility of sitting side-by-side with a robot intrigues me — or maybe soon it will be the robot who sits here instead of me!
Just about every comic strip I have seen in the Nevada Appeal this month made some reference to robots. Though I am not particularly a fan of the Dilbert strip, what attracted my attention this month was the love relationship one of the main female characters has with a robot “boyfriend.” She wants to break up with the one robot to start a relationship with another robot and is upset that the current robot has taken this news by just saying “OK.” She retorts by saying “I need you to feel bad about this, so I’m uploading some code that makes you suffer.” Which brings me to the subject of the programmer in charge of programming the “bot.” Will there be a code of ethics?
I’ve been a fan of the author George Orwell since my teenage years and find myself wanting to read his futuristic novel “1984” at least every 10 years to determine how far his predictions — published in 1948 — have come. So many today do not realize the more “wired” they are, the more their every movement is tracked by a series of “Little Brothers” instead of one Big Brother. Referencing an editorial comic published in this newspaper on April 8, two toddlers look up at a camera and one comments, “Big Mother is watching.” That shows how the younger generation is growing up thinking it is normal to be watched and recorded.
I haven’t yet read “Brave New World,” by Aldous Huxley, published in 1931, anticipating how the world will be in 2540; and not sure I want to. The description of the content alone is troubling, “the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that are combined to profoundly change society as we know it today. Or, maybe we already are in that brave new world.
It seems so easy to “condition” most of the population as noted in another classic book “A Nation of Sheep” written by William J. Lederer during the time of the Vietnam War. Though the title says it all, it’s disturbing to learn just how manipulated we can be by those in government.
If you look around you, there’s daily evidence in our news that robots are here and will continue to dominate our lives. Our new cars already are semi-robotic — they can park themselves and warn of possible oncoming accidents. Soon, just enter your car and tell it where to go — then sit back and relax! The fun of driving and being in control could be a thing of the past, but a boon to older folks who may no longer be able to drive.
Siri, Alexa, Cortana - your artificial intelligence assistant, also known as chatbots — listen eagerly for a command. What else are “they” listening to? Those “smart” TV’s can now record goings on in a home (think George Orwell) and your viewing habits. Your “smart” cell phone tracks your every movement and those “smart” trendy little watches recording your every pulse, heartbeat and movement are monitored by some Little Brother somewhere. Guy Walters, writer for the U.K Daily Mail asserts, “We should stop calling these devices ‘smart’ and call them what they really are — spies.” Rather a strong statement, but something to think about.
And, we are buying into all of it willing — and perhaps innocently — to sacrifice our personal privacy. Google a shopping site and the next time you use Google, the earlier site you viewed will appear as an “ad.” Disconcerting. Using the term “cookies” makes it all sound so innocent as your every search is recorded by Big Brother Google. We love all the gadgets and latest technological advances and must have them, or do we?
Your viewing and listening habits are analyzed by companies such as Nielsen’s Marketing Cloud. Nielsen no longer needs you to fill out a daily record of viewing habits. Nope, they can get that right off your TV without you even knowing it. Bought a new TV lately? Read the fine print. I always wondered how “they” knew how many millions watched a show — like this year’s Academy Awards — and within a few hours let us know viewership decreased. I didn’t watch — and Big Brother Nielsen knew it!
According to the Martin Ford, author of “Rise of the Robots,” today’s focus on Information Technology is “an unprecedented force for disruption.” He further asks whether a “tiny elite should be able to, in effect, capture society’s accumulated technological capital.”
Right now, the cool thing is to encourage our kids to enter the field of robotics. Those with the scientific and mathematical minds can hold our future in their hands. The rest of us who are a bit challenged in this field will have to make certain robots are programmed for the good and not the bad. There have always — and will always be — those among us who wish to control it all.
Some may have missed the launching of Neuralink, a new venture backed by Elon Musk — of the Tesla fame. Seems his new company will be creating and testing the linking of human brains to computers. While the company’s initial focus is to develop brain implants to treat neural disorders, he also is concerned humanity may not be able to keep up with future superintelligent computers. While there is always the potential to do good, there is always the potential to do harm. As we have learned through history — and still today — the human mind knows no bounds when it comes it harming other humans.
Let’s reread the famous and oft quoted statement attributed to John Dalberg, Lord of Acton and Member of the British Parliament and prolific author published in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you add the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.” We quote the first sentence, but are unaware of the rest of the quote — equally as strong.
A talented hacker can disrupt the entire wired world. That’s not in the future, that’s today’s reality. That extremely intelligent mind behind the computer can cause incredible damage in seconds.
As the thoughtful Martin Ford writes, “Computers are machines that can — in a very limited and specialized sense — think.” He further goes on to assert that as computers get dramatically better, “it seems very likely that they will soon be poised to outperform many of the people now employed to do these things.” For those who want to look a bit into the very near future, Ford’s book might be an informative read.
The Chamber’s monthly Soup’s On luncheon series will feature WNC’s Emily Howarth, Professor, Electronics and Industrial Technology, who will provide more insight into tomorrow’s world and how today’s students are preparing to cope in this “Brave New World.” The luncheon will take place at the Gold Dust West beginning at 11:15 a.m. on Tuesday, April 25. Cost is $20 per person. Reservations must be made by Monday, April 24 before noon.
Star Wars may be closer than we think.