Artificial intelligence (AI): Will it bring in the best or the worst of times? That is the question futurists, philosopher, techies and scientists are debating. Recently, Stephen Hawking chipped in with his opinion: we are doomed. Certainly, robotics is turning our economy on its head with an efficiency that makes human workers unnecessary. (Blog 2/8/16) We’re in a race, says Max Tegmark of MIT, “between the growing power of technology and the growing wisdom to manage it.” (“Anxious about A. I. Joel Achenback, excerpted from Washington Post, The Week, Jan. 22. 2016, pg 37.) Writer Rae Kurzweil, in an interview with astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, admits our capacity to grow our brains large enough to master the problems ahead are limited by the size of the birth canal. To keep up with our creations, we will merge with them. (Click -1/2 video)
That might not be easy. People could find being uploaded to a hologram a trifle unsettling. What’s more, technology is running so far ahead of us, we may fail to see how to harness its uses. My fear is it may harness us. As Baratunde Thurston points out, “In a Tech Pickle,” few of us understand the current technology – in some cases, not even enough to unsubscribe from a website. (Fast Company, Feb, 2016, pg. 100.)
Recently, for example, I awoke to find the platform for my blogs had been redesigned and I was supplied with an electronic tutorial to catch up. (Blog 1/28/16). Annoyed by the disruption, I read through the instructions and found them unfathomable. I called my web manger for help. He scanned the tutorial and said he’d get back to me. In the meantime, I decided to read the instructions again. I wasn’t making much headway until I arrived at end of the manual. For $669, I could purchase a second tutorial to explain the first.
When systems lose their customers in their programs and force them to buy their way out – assuming a subscriber would understand the second tutorial any better than the first – those systems have run amok.
I know not where the future lies. Certainly some of the best and brightest prognosticators have been wrong. Unlike the Dodo bird, radios and bookstores haven’t disappeared. Television didn’t eliminate a night at the movies. Technology has made computers smaller, not bigger as assumed. So, I refuse to wring my hands about AI. Maybe a friendly robot exists who can explain my new tutorial… or not. What I do know is where the consumer is concerned, Hawking is right: we’re doomed.