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 really made me laugh out loud. I mean, how often is it that the grey lady, New York Times On-Line projects hilarity into this ultra-serious time. It seems that coder Eric Bailey decided to create an add-on to Google’s Chrome browser to counteract the surge in news stories that blame so-called millennials for the world’s problems. The Millennials to Snake People add-on term “millennials” to “snake people” in news articles and on websites. No accessing the launch codes, just something that he thought would be funny. Somehow this was allowed to slip into an article that appeared in the online edition but was corrected for the print version.
While the online article only referred to the “Great Recession” as “the time of shedding and cold rocks”, the fact that someone seems to be using the internet and social media to inject a bit of mirth into the discussion is a move that we wholeheartedly endorse. This seems to continue in the proud tradition of jokers and fools have been Ernie Kovacs, Salvador Dali, the Pie Man even St Francis. It seems that the jokers and fools will be the ones to open our eyes to a vaster possibility of engagement, to make us examine this new presence in our lives, to lose our jaded blinders and to remember that we are surrounded by wonder and that each moment can be a moment to be surprised by joy. Or at least snake people!
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 leapt 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.
It has been interesting watching the Janus faced march of the internet; on one hand offering us a new world of information and entertainment as well as the possible downfall of our democracy our social order and our idea of privacy. It seems that we have forgotten that each new innovation has both positive and negative aspects. And in the case of the internet, we seem to be shocked at each new turn- how can our wonderful new technology allow our elections to be hacked, our private information made public, our companies brought to their knees by cyber attacks. While computers work in a world of 1’s and 0’s we seem to have clung to that worldview also, being stuck in a worldview where things are either all good or all bad. We can’t seem to tolerate any variation on our singular thinking. You are either all for us or all of us- there is no common ground. Any deviation from the zero or one is not acceptable and must either be ridiculed or shunned. Recently, the term non-binary (NB), is a catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine—identities which are thus outside of the gender binary and cisnormativity. Hopefully, this is a step in the right direction and we can begin to see colour where now we only see black and white not only in our future but in our relations with each other. Perhaps we are bound to live in a world of gods and monsters forever be chasing innovation in technology and as human beings with torches and farm implements until we discover the diversity between the zeros and ones.
In James Whales, Bride of Frankenstein, a character toasts the idea of Dr. Frankensteins creations saying, “To a new world of gods and monsters!”
While it still blows my mind that light has weight, it also still causes me to stop and think that information has value and that our information can demand a high cost. Companies regularly mine our internet browsing history to see where we have been to predict where we might go in our internet searches. But have we lost the difference between cost and value? It has been often remarked upon here and elsewhere how we give away our personal data or data exhaust as it is called, making us believe that there is no value to our information. It is something like the exhaust from our cars that needs to be taken away and dealt with like a crying child throwing a tantrum in a museum. And yet, this very stone which we have rejected becomes the cornerstone of so many company’s existences. If Google couldn’t track our data, how would they know how to market to us, to tell us what we needed, what we should value, what we should want and how to get it? In short, we give them things which we are told have no value and then they to use these things, our opinions and our interests to determine what we should pay for what we are told we should want.
It seems that what we value we are no longer willing to pay for and what we pay for what we no longer value. We pay money for products that we know we will have to replace in a year or less as they will have no value left and pay money to get people to look, click or follow a website. We pursue a vapor we value but at what cost?
As the namesake of this blog was fond of saying, media is an extension of our human nervous system and as such is neither good or bad, but a tool for us to use to learn and grow. Basically, radio is an extension of our voice, the telephone an extension of our hearing etc. With the advent of the internet and social media, it seems that our consciousness can be everywhere at once. As drones become cheaper and more accessible, it seems that our media vision can now see farther than ever before. With the addition of artificial reality and phones that allow us to immerse ourselves in a reality almost anywhere in the world or where we send our drones to look. This reminded me of a section of Neale Donald Walsch’s “Conversations With God” where he speaks of his belief that, to know itself, the creative force split itself into millions of pieces which were planted in us so that we could look back on the universe and experience it from outside the creative consciousness. As we move forward with our innovation, expanding our experiential presence of the world, are we not setting ourselves on a trajectory similar to one that many believe created ourselves.
I woke up from a dream not too long ago, thinking about QWERTY. Now as you may know that is the name of the keyboard that I am using to type this and probably the keyboard you use too. I was surprised to learn some time ago that the arrangement of keys on the QWERTY keyboard supposedly was not to allow people to type quickly but to slow them down by placing the keys in award places to keep the levers that produced each letter from colliding as they typed. I like to think that the technology was changed to allow for human speed but it is common thought that that is not the case. This makes me wonder about the new coming waves of technology. It does seem that there will be a point where technology will move faster than we can as humans but will we remember who the technology is for? Will we make the technology serve us by intentionally slowing it down or will we force ourselves to work at a pace dictated by technology? In short, will we retain control or end up like Lucile Ball struggling with an uncaring production line of chocolate without the benefit of a laugh track.