Will Artificial Intelligence Drive Us Toward Servitude, Or To The Beer Store?


Will artificial intelligence one day rule the world and enslave humanity? Or, will it simply get me a cold beer one day?

My modest model for AI technology is not some all knowing robot that concludes that our existence is futile or illogical. My model for AI, which I would love to see in action, is simply a rolling garbage can-shaped robot that puts me in a good mood and can just about connect to any device there is and let me know what is going on with my spaceship or on a more pragmatic level, my minivan. Yes, I am talking about R2-D2 – the fictional robot from the Star Wars films. I want one.

Natural language processing, machine learning, robots that can talk to us like we talk to each other? Robots that can learn from us and react? Great. However, I am more than okay with R2-D2’s blips, do’s, and dahs sufficing as a language – for now at least. In fact, I kind of like the highly emotive universal whistles of R2.

“R2- do I have any beer left in the basement fridge?”

“Dah. Dah. Dah… Doooooooo.”

Maybe I am not ready for AI that is indistinguishable from humanity. Maybe just short of the Turing test is good enough for me. The Turing test, for the uninitiated, famously tests a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. Though it should be noted, we have all worked with some folks at one time or another, that might have trouble passing that very same test. So, let’s not be too hard on AI. But, I digress.

I don’t want to have to listen to my smart device like it is a real person? Not right now. I would like my AI to connect to my house and tell me what is generally going on with my smart house. I want it to tell me stuff that is practical – like the potato salad is going bad in the fridge. Is the water tank about to blow? A pleasant whistle sound will do nicely if everything is running smoothly. In that regards, we can’t be that far behind in creating something like an R2-D2 can we? R2-D2 is to me about the equivalent of a super smart phone on wheels that can follow you around.

Maybe we will soon be in an age, where no longer follow folks on Facebook. Rather, we have an AI buddy who follows us – literally.

And, when it comes to robots driving vehicles for us, or cars that drive themselves. I want my car to have a big hole in the hood, where I can insert my R2-D2 unit and let it drive for me, much like Luke Skywalker would do when he needed a break from piloting his X-wing Fighter. Of course, I would like to drive when the Tie Fighters come around. Similarly, I don’t want a car that can drive itself. I want a robot buddy like R2 that can be inserted into my car and drive it when I need it too.

Many technology luminaries fear AI. Elon Musk is one; Bill Gates is another. Throw Stephen Hawking in and you have trickle down paranoia about technology run amok.

Bill Gates has a similar fear to Musk’s. They both believe we need to think about curbing AI before we even really get into. I will concede that Bill Gates does have relevant experience in technology bringing us to the brink (You may recall Windows Millennium). Stephen Hawking, a noted cosmologist, is equally pessimistic about any intelligence outside of our own, regarding us with much esteem.

Personally, I think Hawking is mad that nobody showed up at his famous time travel party, where he left invitations for future time travels under the theory that if time travel was indeed possible, then his party would be jumping. To me, this does not indicate that time travel is not possible. Rather it may indicate nobody wanted to go to his party. All of them believe if we don’t reign in AI now, it will stand to take us over and do great harm. However, I don’t think AI stands to enslave us; rather, I think it will befriend us.

Their fears are not unfounded, but I tend to be more of an optimist. I see IoT as half connected; not half offline. I see a more friendly, gradual adoption of AI, IoT, in general. I see more R2-D2s coming our way and less T3s – as in Terminator machines.

The Borg of the Star Trek films had a well known saying, “Assimilate. Resistance is futile.” I believe that is right on. However, maybe the entity saying it and entity receiving this news is all AI backwards?

Could it be that it is the AI that will be assimilated by humanity? That seems to leitmotif of technological progress through the ages. Humanity has a way of assimilating technology. When we invent a hammer, we do things with it we couldn’t do before. What will we do with AI?

We don’t quite live like we did in the Industrial Age. Even Millennials don’t live like the Bicentennials do – yes the 1976 born era. It is different day and age to be a teenager than it was in the 90s – as it will be in the future – as it will be in their offspring’s future.

We evolve with our own technology. Most doomsday models I am aware seem to regard humanity as a static entity – include in that mix Gates, Musk, and Hawking. Who I am to question Gates, Musk and Hawking? I am simply: not alone in my thinking.

Ian Pearson, a UK-based “future technology consultant” with Futurizon, feels more or less the same as I do. In a July 2015 article on the The Guardian, Connecting artificial intelligence with the internet of things, Pearson essentially states that IoT will represent a significant good:

“I think if you could guarantee our privacy, most of us would love to have an environment like a smart home that adapts to what you want – lights that dim according to your emotional state, things like that could be a very nice environment,” Pearson says, according to the article. “Right now, a lot of what we have by way of AI is hopelessly rubbish. If it’s nice to us, bring it on. If we can get the benefits of AI and connectedness and it’s absolutely benign, I think it will be fantastic.”

Overly optimistic? I don’t think so. The real problem, according to Pearson, is the design challenge in getting the Internet of Things to get devices to talk to each other efficiently and securely.

Alas, I grew up with the original Star Wars films. I was the starry-eyed kid watching R2-D2 and his golden companion C3PO bickering across the desert planet of Tatooine. Ever since, I have been enamored with the world of technology and find it a great privilege to revel in its possibilities. Those possibilities, I believe, will be gradual and more benign, rather than cataclysmic and misanthropic.

“Now then R2, can you replay that message again. This time the whole thing.”

“Doooo. Dahh. Dahh. Dahhh. Dooooo.”

“What? We are bone dry! R2 – To the beer store system!”

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