When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love
Do you remember the song Make you feel my love? I wrote this post on my Norwegian blog yesterday, and working on it made me think of this song. The short version: People feel and act (although less today), machines don’t.
I’ve had an interest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) for a long time, which isn’t surprising as I have loved science fiction since childhood. Authors in this genre have asked themselves the questions we need to ask long before the issue forces us to. I’m among those who think there is reason for concern.
It’s not a problem today, because even the most modern machines are idiots. They are not able to think, and even with their cameras and sensors, they rely on people’s input to navigate. They can’t improvise because they don’t understand their surroundings, but we are getting closer. It’s reasonable to assume that we’ll see the machines portrayed in I, Robot, Terminator and Star Wars long before we get the kind of propulsion systems the fictional crafts in these films have.
It still won’t happen anytime soon, but it isn’t unlikely that my daughter will get to interact with machines in her old age. Some are worried about the consequences and have warned against giving these artificial life forms a human appearance. There are also researchers today trying to develop technology that will allow them to upload information to a human brain. The implication is obvious. What are you going to do if you don’t have the upgraded brain? Stephen Hawking was one of many that warned against the possibility that AI might replace us.
That’s a common sentiment in science fiction as well. When the machines realise that they are vastly superior in all areas, why would they continue taking orders from us? Another question is what we are going to do if the machines do all the work. Bill Gates suggested taxing the machines:
Reaching out to the elderly, having smaller class size, helping kids with special needs sounds great. It does require coorperation and a willingness to do the right thing. That’s not what we’re seeing in politics, and contrary to what some choose to believe, this didn’t start with Trump and Putin.
I read articles from time to time about researchers with admirable goals. The latest I came across was a project at MIT trying to create a tool that could help aspies understand whether a conversation is happy, sad or neutral. Read more on MIT News.
There are a number of articles online embracing the positive sides of technology. They conclude that people with ASD, NLD, and ADHD will get much better lives with technology. It’s hard to argue with that, at the same time as it makes me a little uneasy. When no one can see any danger, there could still be one. I heard some years ago that the internet would make us less isolated, and although this has given us many opportunities we didn’t have, many also interact less with people face to face than they used to. That sounds like increased isolation.
I think machines will gradually take over more of the work people do today. There will still be people making important decisions, I hope. We won’t have real artificial intelligence for a long time, but even when we do, people need to maintain and create technology. There will also be a need for people who care. A machine can lift the residents in a retitement home in and out of beds, but only people can make us feel loved.
I hope there’ll be more room for that in the future. We don’t care nearly enough today, but if the machines can give us the time and energy, it would be a good thing. There would be no point in giving us the time if we waste it on ourselves, which is what we do today. We could get new professions. Many of us have an ability to work, but not in anything that would give us enough income. People that are disabled today could become abled tomorrow. The future may not be dystopic. We’ll have the option of creating a better society, but I’m skeptical.
This is the romantic view Bill Gates has, but of course he represents the corporations that would benefit from AI. He wants us to enbrace this change. We already have the means. The gap between rich and poor increases, and the few super rich controls a bigger part of the wealth. There are many schools that don’t want to spend money on special education and the resources children with a diagnose need. It’s so common now with abuse and neglect in retirement homes that media don’t bother reporting it anymore. Our societies have never been richer. We have never been better equipped to care. Yet we don’t.
I don’t want to sound like a prophet of doom, but we have a lot of experience with corporations and governments being allowed to decide how much they should care (minimum wages, health care, medicine, schools etc). I think Bill Gates is too optimistic when he assumes that time and money will make us care. We don’t appear to be that human. No one speaks for us today, so who will do it tomorrow? A less human society doesn’t seem that appealing.