Robin Hanson thinks the robot takeover, when it comes, will be in the form of emulations. In his new book, The Age of Em, the economist explains: you take the best and brightest 200 human beings on the planet, you scan their brains and you get robots that to all intents and purposes are indivisible from the humans on which they are based, except a thousand times faster and better.
The Guardian view on artificial intelligence: look out, it’s ahead of youEditorial: There is a tendency to see intelligence where it does not exist. But it is just as wrong to fail to see where it is emerging Read moreFor some reason, conversationally, Hanson repeatedly calls these 200 human prototypes “the billionaires”, even though having a billion in any currency would be strong evidence against your being the brightest, since you have no sense of how much is enough. But that’s just a natural difference of opinion between an economist and a mediocre person who is now afraid of the future.
These Ems, being superior at everything and having no material needs that couldn’t be satisfied virtually, will undercut humans in the labour market, and render us totally unnecessary. We will all effectively be retired. Whether or not we are put out to a pleasant pasture or brutally exterminated will depend upon how we behave towards the Ems at their incipience.
It could be said that the job of bridge toll collector was invented in San Francisco. In 1968, the Golden Gate Bridge became the world’s first major bridge to start employing people to take tolls.
But in 2013 the bridge where it all began went electronic. Of its small band of collectors, 17 people were redeployed or retired and nine found themselves out of work. It was the software that did it – a clear-cut case of what economists call technological unemployment. Licence-plate recognition technology took over. Automating jobs like that might not seem like a big deal. It is easy to see how it might happen, just as how we buy train tickets at machines or book movie tickets online reduces the need for people.
Ebola sounds like the stuff of nightmares. Bird flu and SARS also send shivers down my spine. But I’ll tell you what scares me most: artificial intelligence.
The first three, with enough resources, humans can stop. The last, which humans are creating, could soon become unstoppable.
Before we get into what could possibly go wrong, let me first explain what artificial intelligence is. Actually, skip that. I’ll let someone else explain it: Grab an iPhone and ask Siri about the weather or stocks. Or tell her “I’m drunk.” Her answers are artificially intelligent.
Right now these artificially intelligent machines are pretty cute and innocent, but as they are given more power in society, these machines may not take long to spiral out of control.
In the beginning, the glitches will be small but eventful. Maybe a rogue computer momentarily derails the stock market, causing billions in damage. Or a driverless car freezes on the highway because a software update goes awry.
Despite its quaint reputation, agriculture has always been an early adapter of technology. This is evident from the beginning of mechanization with the cotton gin, McCormick’s Reaper, tractors, hybrid seed, to genetically engineered plants that protect themselves and grow in arid environments. Yields have grown quickly, but demand from developing countries and population growth are growing faster
Are robots capable of moral or ethical reasoning, knowing right from wrong? Not yet. But the U.S. government is spending millions on developing machines that understand moral consequence.
The Office of Naval Research will award $7.5 million in grant money over five years to university researchers from Tufts, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Brown, Yale and Georgetown to explore how to build a sense of right and wrong and moral consequence into autonomous robotic systems.
“Even though today’s unmanned systems are ‘dumb’ in comparison to a human counterpart, strides are being made quickly to incorporate more automation at a faster pace than we’ve seen before,” Paul Bello, director of the cognitive science program at the Office of Naval Research told Defense One. “For example, Google’s self-driving cars are legal and in-use in several states at this point. As researchers, we are playing catch-up trying to figure out the ethical and legal implications. We do not want to be caught similarly flat-footed in any kind of military domain where lives are at stake.”
Robots can capture a child’s imagination like no other tool by creating a fun, physical learning process. With robots, kids learn programming via interactive play by moving a robot in various sequences and using intuitive, visual programming on a computer screen. The children also learn STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) by watching and interacting with robots that demonstrate the practical results of the day’s lesson. “Kids recognize when they are learning something themselves—robots give them that,” says Larry Johnson, CEO of the New Media Consortium, a research organization that specializes in educational technology. Robots are proving to be valuable educational tools from the lower grades all the way up to graduate school. “Building and programming these devices is part of becoming a creative science and engineering kind of person,” he adds.