Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The first church of robotics

Technology guru Jaron Lanier has provided a lucid NYTimes Op-Ed article on now we are misguided and damaged by thinking about increasingly intelligent machines as fellow creatures rather than tools. He sees an inappropriate new religion being expressed through engineering culture, which looses sight of the fact that technology is essentially a service. You should read the article. Here are some clips:
...the nuts and bolts of A.I. research can often be more usefully interpreted without the concept of A.I. at all. For example, I.B.M. scientists recently unveiled a “question answering” machine that is designed to play the TV quiz show “Jeopardy.” Suppose I.B.M. had dispensed with the theatrics, declared it had done Google one better and come up with a new phrase-based search engine. This framing of exactly the same technology would have gained I.B.M.’s team as much (deserved) recognition as the claim of an artificial intelligence, but would also have educated the public about how such a technology might actually be used most effectively.
On Robot Teachers:
...these robots are just a form of high-tech puppetry. The children are the ones making the transaction take place — having conversations and interacting with these machines, but essentially teaching themselves. This just shows that humans are social creatures, so if a machine is presented in a social way, people will adapt to it.
On the recommendations made by Netflix and Pandora:
...our exposure to art shouldn’t be hemmed in by an algorithm that we merely want to believe predicts our tastes accurately. These algorithms do not represent emotion or meaning, only statistics and correlations...while Silicon Valley might sell artificial intelligence to consumers, our industry certainly wouldn’t apply the same automated techniques to some of its own work. Choosing design features in a new smartphone, say, is considered too consequential a game. Engineers don’t seem quite ready to believe in their smart algorithms enough to put them up against Apple’s chief executive, Steve Jobs, or some other person with a real design sensibility.
On Simgularity University:
...The influential Silicon Valley institution preaches a story that goes like this: one day in the not-so-distant future, the Internet will suddenly coalesce into a super-intelligent A.I., infinitely smarter than any of us individually and all of us combined; it will become alive in the blink of an eye, and take over the world before humans even realize what’s happening.
...a great deal of the confusion and rancor in the world today concerns tension at the boundary between religion and modernity — whether it’s the distrust among Islamic or Christian fundamentalists of the scientific worldview, or even the discomfort that often greets progress in fields like climate change science or stem-cell research...If technologists are creating their own ultramodern religion, and it is one in which people are told to wait politely as their very souls are made obsolete, we might expect further and worsening tensions. But if technology were presented without metaphysical baggage, is it possible that modernity would not make people as uncomfortable?
Technology is essentially a form of service. We work to make the world better. Our inventions can ease burdens, reduce poverty and suffering, and sometimes even bring new forms of beauty into the world. We can give people more options to act morally, because people with medicine, housing and agriculture can more easily afford to be kind than those who are sick, cold and starving...But civility, human improvement, these are still choices. That’s why scientists and engineers should present technology in ways that don’t confound those choices...We serve people best when we keep our religious ideas out of our work.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:30 AM

    In the interest of playing devil's advocate, I wonder what kind of man-made creation would be sufficient for Lanier to say it is a conscious entity. I understand we are a long way from cylons, but if Lanier is a naturalist, there must be a line somewhere.