There are few stories that capture my attention more than those involving the mirepoix of Technology stories, Robots, Japan and velociraptor. You can imagine my delight when we saw the story of Japanese robots being fired for not being human enough. It seems that a hotel in Japan had fired most of its human workers, replacing them with robots only to find that the robots were not human enough to replace the human workers that they had replaced. The robot maids and bellhop lacked a human touch and often malfunctioned though it does seem like the velociraptor concierges did seem to be a departure from this plan. The entire situation though brings up the question, what is it that we really want from these robotic aids? This confusion seems inherent in the situation in this hotel, where the concierges were robots made up to look like the aforementioned velociraptors. Do we really want cheaper humans as Wal-Mart seems to think, replacing the people who used to mop the floors with robots, or do we want comical C3PO’s that speak in a charming British accent and add some comic relief to our day-to-day routine? And what about race, do we want our robots all to be white and male or should they be modeled after the Kardashians- (or would that be redundant) in a generic idea of western beauty or would we accept a rainbow of robots in various colours and shapes? In short, are we creating something in the image of a self like us or are we striving toward a future populated by a self-better than who we are?
There was always that one guy in High School (at least when I was in high school) who would go to the mat to try to make you believe that Paul Mc Cartney was dead. True to form, the urban legend states that in 1967 Paul McCartney had been killed in a traffic accident while driving along the M1 motorway. While there was no real proof, only rumors, and hazy evidence, the rumor persisted and still has its followers today. The insecurity of the past, the idea that we can’t be sure of what really happened can take many forms, from a false memory, where a person recalls something that did not happen or differently from the way it happened but the idea is taken to a whole new level around 2014 when a concept “The Mandella Effect” began to take hold. It seems that some people remembered Nelson Mandela’s tragic death in a South African prison, prior to late 2009. (In this reality, Mandela died in 2013.) The idea being that someone had gone back to tamper with the past and re-set our experience of it. While we have often spoken of cyber truth in this blog, this idea seems to take the idea into a much larger and more terrifying realm. While a computer could easily erase our bank records we like to think that we have some memory of what happened and that other people could confirm our story. However, the more terrifying reality is that we could find ourselves in a George Bailey like fate, alive and remembering a world in which he never existed. As we continue to hear more tales of data being stolen, do we not see that the true goal may not be just our data but the very fact that we ever existed?
If I remember correctly, in the closing lines of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote, “we hold these truths to be self-evident”. Now, while the quote goes on, I find it interesting this idea of somethings self-evidence; the idea that something is known to be true by understanding its meaning without proof. It seems self-evident that people have rights though we may argue as to the breadth and depth of those rights and that machines, as non-human, non-feeling entities do not. This notion was challenged when I saw an article in the BBC about the appearance of a woman robot in Riyadh Saudi Arabia at the Future Investment Initiative conference. Sophia, as she is known, was given Saudi citizenship but she was allowed to appear without the traditional headscarf and abaya, the cloak that Saudi women are obliged to wear in public. Of course, social media pundits leaped to their keyboards noting that not only had this electronic “woman” not only been granted citizenship but had rights that Saudi women only dream of. Here was a woman speaking alone on a stage where under the Saudi Guardianship system every woman must be accompanied by a male companion who has authority to act on her behalf. It seems as if Saudi Arabia had become the Manor Farm for the day where all women were equal except that those women who were silicon-based were more equal than those of a mere carbon base.
While it may seem laughable now, it is not impossible to imagine that we could create a world in which computers would have more rights than some or maybe even all people. We seem to delight in ways that we can segregate and remove ourselves from those who we deem somehow different or less than us but now we seem to have taken that talent to a whole new level. We could create machines to look down on us- maybe outsource our racism so that we would be free to pursue more noble goals? While it may seem absurd, there are some of us who remember when the idea of an actor as president was a punchline and not a reality.
Growing up, Mad magazine was a staple in my brother and my lives. My personal favorite was the Spy VS. Spy cartoon, where a pair of nearly identical spies, one in a black costume and one in a white, constantly execute each other’s demise. In one episode the white spy blows up the black and in the while the next, the reverse occurs. Seeing the latest reports of cyber hacking and assurances that measures were in place to ensure our privacy, it seems that we seem to be in a Spy vs. Spy reality. No matter how much we assure people that their information is safe, with the next breath we are detailing the amount of information that was hacked and lost. However, the victim, in this case, seems to be people’s faith in the protection of their information in this new Cold War. What happens when, like the spies, both messages destroy each other, as much as we claim to be safe we are also met with similar messages that our information is not safe? Perhaps we are embarking on a new strategy, one of Mutual Information Distrust.