Without a doubt, the digital world is taking us where no man or woman has gone before. The universe of the mind is rapidly melding with the natural one, creating infinite possibilities. Having reached the edge of the new frontier, we’re about to face unanticipated challenges, the loss of personal privacy being among the first. As writer Mark Tokson notes, the third-party doctrine of the Fourth Amendment has not been examined since the pre-internet era. That’s the doctrine that holds people who voluntarily give information to third parties – such as banks, phone companies, internet service providers and e-mail servers – have no reasonable expectation of privacy. (“Redefining privacy in the digital age,” The Week, December 16, 2017, pg. 20.)
What’s more, personal freedom is difficult to defend when electronic devices, even a “smart thermostat” (Ibid, pg. 20), can track and record information about our finances, our work, our health, our shopping habits and throw that information into the cloud where hackers wait. What’s more, these devices are getting smarter and smarter. Some folks worry robots may one day rule humans. Recently, for example, a computer program defeated a master of Go, the ancient Chinese board game with simple rules that require strategies more complex than chess. The gold standard for artificial intelligence (AI) has been to defeat a human Go master. Now, it’s been achieved. (Click)
Alex Williams of the New York Times speculates on our future with AI. (Click) Not everyone, for example, believes humans are going to lose their jobs. The more sanguine point out we’ve seen technological shifts in the past and have survived. Williams’ points out, however, this time, conditions are different. We are no longer talking about developing machines that work faster and have greater versatility than in the past. We’re talking about machines built to replace us.
Some types of work will disappear more slowly than others. Those that require the human touch will probably hang around for some time: health care providers, hospice workers, mental health therapists… Artists may stave off robots for a time, too. Creativity is more complicated to replicate than developing algorithms that teach a machine how to follow a set of instructions. But that bastion may be in jeopardy sooner than we imagine. Recently, AI competed for a Literary prize. It didn’t win, but the novel’s closing line should give us pause: “The computer, placing priority on the pursuit of its own joy, stopped working with humans.” (Click)