I am amused by headlines that warn robots are out to get our jobs. Those stories are too little, far too late. Many years ago, I imagined the insidious nature of robotics, based on how automation affected me, personally. While I understand, enjoy, and reap benefits of automation, robotics eventually did displace me in the work I love. People, in my situation, whose jobs have been outsourced to automation have understood this problem for many years.
Most of us are not Luddites because we have a fairly balanced view of modern technology. We love our phones, computers, and microwave ovens. Technology and automation have enabled more reliable internal combustion engines and safety devices. These are a few things that enhance our daily lives.
Experience tells us that technology doesn’t stand still; improvements and progress are always on the horizon. I wonder if some of the people who designed automatic transmissions for cars, perhaps envisioned that, someday, there might be self-driving cars. At least a few writers of science fiction predicted them.
Now that self-driving cars are becoming a reality, there are many concerns about them as these vehicles mix in with the real world dangers of our streets and highways. Some ethicists wonder how a self-driving car will choose who to kill when an unavoidable collision scenario develops on the roads. Will the car continue along its trajectory and harm others or will the car sacrifice its occupants for the safety of greater numbers?
What about hackers? If dubious individuals can hack into the Pentagon, invading the inner works of a self-driving car will be a piece of cake. It would be easy to kidnap the occupants of a vehicle, or purposely carry out their deaths by hijacking the control mechanisms of the car. This is far more worrisome than the present-day annoyances that our anti-virus packages scan for each day on our laptops and other devices.
What about the day when artificial intelligence has near total control of highway and city traffic? Just as most people don’t know how to drive a stick-shift car, eventually, folks won’t bother to learn how to drive. Those of us who do know how to drive will see our skills become rusty from lack of every day practice. I can imagine the danger of advanced artificial intelligence intentionally harming great numbers of people in their vehicles. At its most benign, our transportation system could go into total gridlock during a severe sunspot event.
On a more ominous note, esteemed scientists and international organizations are warning us about the proliferation of military and police robots. The United Nations has equated military and police robots with the proliferation of nuclear weaponry. There are already many prototypes of these weapons being tested in mock situations. These weapons will be programmed to open fire without human control. The UN has requested a pre-emptive ban on such devices.
We already have drones and self-flying aircraft that can be readily converted to artificial intelligence control. There are already many private individuals in many countries who presently possess the skills to develop and build their own hobby robots. How can they be effectively regulated? Perhaps this can only be done by automated, artificial intelligence technology. The by-product of this will be endless escalation and proliferation.
These are just a few of the scenarios that have come to my attention recently. Most of them seem, to me, to be quite plausible. I wonder if it comes down to us vs. artificial intelligence, will there be a new version of mutually assured destruction? What can be done to prevent this?
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes robotics designer, David Hanson. “Machines are becoming devastatingly capable of things like killing. Those machines have no place for empathy. There’s billions of dollars being spent on that. Character robotics could plant the seed for robots that actually have empathy.”