It is with a fair amount of interest that I have followed the debate in Europe over the role of AI and how it should be viewed or regulated. Readers of this post may remember the kerfuffle caused by Sophia, the robot that appeared at Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh and caused a stir as a robot, as a woman robot and as a woman robot in an Arab country without a hajib. Well, the discussion has come up again in Europe where the European Parliament, to the outrage of AI specialists, advised that robots be given legal status. Like a corporation, this would not hold the companies that created the robots legally responsible for their behavior. It seems to be step in the Alfred P Newman, “what, me worry?” theology that seems to be the order of the day. If guns don’t kill people, then why should we think that companies that make robots are responsible for what they do. And yet, what about the place of robots as human beings. Would they have all the rights of a human or would they have some fraction like the 3/5 voting rights proposed for slaves by the Constitutional Convention of 1787? We seem to have such a good track record of integration and inclusion in this country, it seems strangely natural that we would not even be the ones having this discussion. Europe is far ahead of us on matters of understanding and regulating the role of this new technology, asking questions that we do not seem yet to acknowledge as issues. We can only hope that the robots that we give human status will be better humans than we seem to be.
It was with a note of concern that I noticed the posting about a new service from LinkedIn, their Open Candidates tool which allows one to discretely put their resume in front of recruiters without having to make a public statement about looking for a new position. While at first, I thought it was a brilliant idea, having been in that situation in the not too distant past, looking for a job but doing very much on the down low. Then I thought a bit more about the new service and what it really meant. Growing up I lived in a world where my parents and the adults I know got a job and you stayed there till they got the gold watch when they retired. Just typing those words make me feel old and I realize that even that statement is probably outside of the frame of reference for many readers. The new constant seems to be inconsistency. Where we used to have a job for life we now seem to have a job as a brief perch between transition to the next job. Perhaps transition has become the new constant in the internet age. Perhaps everything is moving so fast we can hope only to understand the blur as the present rushes by, racing to be that past that we can only hope to comprehend.
While it could be tempting to leave things there on a note of gloom and despair that seems to be in vogue these days, it is also helpful to look at the last time we had a disruptive innovation, at that time with the advent of print which ushered in the Renaissance and the Reformation. Heraclitus knew best, our universe is always in flux as much as we wish to cling to the one unmovable spot, the center of a wheel (which is also moving). Perhaps Harry Lime was right and wishing for a constant unchanging world would leave us only the cuckoo clock.
Harry Lime’s (Orson Welles) speech from Sir Carol Reeds film, “The Third Man” spoken on a Ferris wheel in the heart of Vienna to his friend Holly Martin.
“Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.”
I find the Brexit strangely fascinating. Not only for the fact that one nation would be thinking about leaving this amazing union of countries but that the fact that a nation could remove itself from this community and in this era of information security it does give one pause to think, Having been a member of a group, how can one remove themselves and all the information that they feel was theirs? Now we all know a divorce can get ugly with people arguing over things but what about arguing about what you know or what you might have learned while you were together. Is it possible to say, this data is yours and this data is mine? And what about companies that are being broken apart after years as a single entity? The long tail teaches us that there is not an expiration on data if we keep our scope for metrics wide enough. We know it is impossible to un-see something and while things can be forgotten, how can we choose what we will forget and what we will remember. While we can easily delete information from our electronic data, we can’t do the same with our minds, And since we can delete and copy information so easily, what proof do we have that it will actually happen? Even more so, who would decide who gets what data? Can we give it a dollar value or is it too mercurial even to have a price attached to it. Perhaps, like Falstaff, we find no value in honor, though I doubt it.
In the movie “Gigi” there is a song sung by an older couple as they remember the day when they first met, The man sings “We met at nine”, and his wife counters, “We met at eight”, he returns “I was on time”, “No” she replies, “You were late” to which is says, “Ah yes, I remember it well.” It’s a lovely duet and it makes me think about the news that now Google is saying that perhaps we cannot forget what we have remembered. You may recall a court ruling in Europe said that someone could protest old links and stories about themselves and petition to have them removed. Google, said they would oblige people’s wishes to be lost from the internet as we have discussed here before. It seems that now it is not so easy to remove the links that bind us together. While the whole situation is interesting I find myself thinking about stories of people who have a photographic memory and are incapable of forgetting. Imagine the curse of remembering everything exactly as it happened. I recall hearing how someone was listening to a lecture and one of the other attendants sneezed and that sneeze was now an indelible part of the lecture- there was no ability to edit or choose what was remembered or forgotten. Imagine keeping every photograph that you have ever taken, unable to throw out the bad ones or photo bombs. For what will we be held accountable when everything we do is recorded and retrievable? Will there be a hierarchy as to what is more important and what isn’t? And what about the physical space of our cyber memory, will our online past soon be so large that it will take up more space than we can give it? There are more questions but unfortunately I can’t remember them right now…..
A link to an article on the issues around internet forgetting
One of my more favorite vocals is Chet Baker singing “Let’s Get Lost”. It’s a haunting hymn of praise on getting away from everyone and hopefully not being found. I am afraid that Google is someone who would not want us to get lost. The European Court of Justice ruled that under European law, search engines are data controllers so they must consider all requests to stop returning links to irrelevant or outdated information. It seems that if we wish we can truly get ourselves lost from the web at least in Europe. While Google is not required to honor every request it seems clear that it seems clear that the popularity of the concept will inspire organizations to have a process in place for reviewing and following through on take-down requests. The movement is growing and may begin to become a point of contention in America. Maybe what happens in Vegas will stay in Vegas.