Recently in Yahoo News there were two articles discussing the approaching end of
the world as we know it. The first, by Professor Stephen Hawking, was a continuation of the gloomy view he holds of AI’s (Artificial Intelligence) effect on human
kind; the second, a discussion by SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) guru Seth Shostak, whose view, while not so gloomy as Hawking’s, predicts changes to our very form factor. And then there was some AI news that didn’t appear on Yahoo that day that might have been even more frightening for some: the coming of the IBM-Watson-Pepper Robot Mind Meld! Read on...if you dare!
Professor Hawking is an intellectual giant. Nobody can deny that. But his views on the development of artificial intelligence are not popular with a large section of the technological community. Profession Hawking is not alone in his fear that AI might prove too much for the species that invented it (For anyone or anything reading this blog post In The Year 2525...that inventor species was us humans). Bill Gates of Microsoft fame and Elon Musk of SpaceX are worried about it also. Mr. Musk recently opined that AI is “potentially more dangerous than nukes” and in an article co-written for the UK paper The Independent, Hawking said that “ Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.”
Last year Hawking and Musk signed an open letter issued by the Future of Life Institute concerned that the development of AI would get out of human control. Their concern, dubbed “alarmist” by some, won the not-so-coveted Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s Luddite Award, given annually to those who resist technological change. Luddites were 19th century textile workers in England who destroyed many of the newly invented automated textile machines in an attempt to save their jobs. They are said to be named after a young man named Ned Ludd who personally destroyed two steam-driven looms. Needless to say, acknowledging the obvious intellectual achievements of Hawking and Musk, the award was given somewhat tongue-in-cheek!
Our second end-of-the world-as-we-know-it prophet isn’t as worried about humans losing to AI as he is bemused by the thought that millions of years of human evolution is about to be replaced by technology. He sees new technologies on the horizon that will allow for designer babies and even androidal improvements to the human body. Paraphrasing, he believes that it is only a matter of time before tomorrow’s human bears as little resemblance to today’s as the gray wolf does to a beagle.
And now it’s time for the true beginning of the end--for this article in any case. Fans of the original Star Trek series will have no problem understanding what is happening here: just as Cmdr. Spock used the Vulcan mind-meld to link his mind telepathically with the misunderstood, silicon-based mother Horta on the planet Janus IV, big corporations IBM and Softbank are planning a mind-meld between IBM’s Jeopardy-winning computer Watson and Pepper the robot. The two companies have teamed up to develop what they called the “Watson-powered Pepper Solution” for businesses wishing more interaction between customers and automated kiosks. For example, instead of meeting up with a simple scanning device in the automated lane at the local grocery store, shoppers will now be met by Pepper robot. They will be dealing with a robot that understands their language--whatever that may be--and can react to their gestures and expressions with humanlike gestures and expressions of its own. That’s right, instead of a scanner that mindlessly tells customers to scan all their items, they will now be met with a creature whose knowledge of their cultural background exceeds their own; just as did Ken Jennings when he came up against Watson on Jeopardy. If that doesn’t spell the end of the world as we know it, what does?