Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The dreaded thought piece: on artificial intelligence

Just stick with me on this.

The encephalitic quotient (EQ) quantifies the brain-to-body mass ratio. My pet bunny's EQ is about 0.4. For we humans, it hovers around 7.5. Theorists have mused over whether a small EQ contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs and if the massive human EQ--the highest of any species--would be the end of us.

Junk science? Perhaps, but it's an interesting assertion, particularly in today's silicon landscape.

Aside: I wonder if anyone ever calculated the EQ of an Intel processor. The whole damn chip is a brain.

Whenever some nerd with a German accent comes on my iPod and starts talking about artificial intelligence (AI) and how ve must be very diligent in zee development of zis phenomenon ... my eyes glaze over. Matt Miller was talking to just such a fellow the other day on To The Point, one Nick Bostrom, author of Superintelligence.

Therein Miller posed a question regarding super AI that piqued my interest, "Will we end up being their pets?"

Admittedly pretty hackish, but evocative nonetheless.

We've been the smartest guy on the block since ... forever. Our hubris is so great, many people believe we are fashioned after God. But think about how we treat those on the lower end of the EQ spectrum.

I keep my pet bunny in a cage. I eat the eggs of chickens. Some guys corral animals into a pen, shoot them and call it hunting. Other guys do it on the free range. Either way, we kill for sport without much ethical dilemma.

While few among us feel guilty about squashing a bug, that spider is running away from you for a reason. Plenty of people avoid consuming animal products, but even the virtuous are impacting the earth and all of its creatures by our collective noxious ways.

As for AI, we've already assimilated it. The obvious examples are Watson of Jeopardy! fame and Siri purring from your iPhone. In the fictional realm, Spike Jonz delivered unto us a seductive operating system in Her that was all too believable.

But think of the AI we take for granted--the Google search bar for instance. Ever feel irritated when it failed to predict your request? Or perhaps victorious when it didn't?

I'm smarter than you, ya miserable Google bastard!

Then pull the camera back and think about how much power our precious devices have over us. They record nearly everything we do, including our thoughts. And we believe them. Consider the Justin Ross Harris story this summer: But he did a Google search about children dying in hot cars!

So did I just now to find that link.

No one knows what the upper end of the spectrum will look like. Perhaps such entities already exist and we don't even see them: I doubt your average amoeba worries about the goings-on of those pesky humans.

Or maybe not. Maybe they will eat our eggs and wear our skin, put us in cages and hunt us for sport. That all sounds silly; more realistically, it will depend on what value we have to them and what ethics we instil upon them.

"They'll need to maintain a power grid," said the Goat as we discussed this on a weekend walk.

"They already have one," I countered. Surely a super AI would never replicate our idiotic reliance on fossil fuels. Don't believe me? This solar keyboard goes three weeks on a full charge. That there fire ball in the sky is the AI power grid.

Last week in the news, a story raged over a man kicking a cat and whether or not he should go to jail. In this CNN clip, an animal rights lawyer asserts that anyone consuming animal products is essentially kicking a cat. While I see his point, I disagree with it. We don't blame a coyote for eating a raccoon because he has to do it to survive. Hence, when we consume animal products to live, it more or less speaks to our hunter/gatherer orgins. If a person is attacked by a feral dog, no one expects him to lie there and get torn apart.

Call it the Darwin card. How will super AI play it?

I do not have a pithy conclusion to this essay, and so it will end like the business end of a blunderbuss. All I can do is hope that whatever super AI blooms, it has a prime directive to take pity on us poor bastards.

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Anonymous said...

So much to comment on, so little time.

I think 'interested assertion' early in the piece is an error.

Lot of difference in ranching critters for food and being a predator on the open range.

"it has a prime directive to take pity on us poor bastards."

Nonsense. The Cosmos in all it's forms is dispassionate. Any meaning attributed to the behavior of plants, animals, minerals or machines is merely a projection of our inner state of mind. Homo Sapiens can contemplate ethics ad nauseam but I know of no convincing evidence that any of it is other than arbitray.

Have a nice day.


Anonymous said...

SP- Arbitrary.


Erin O'Brien said...

"I think 'interested assertion' early in the piece is an error."

'Twas. Thanks for the heads up.

More later .... work now.

Michael Lawless said...

One solar X-flare similar to the Carrington Event of 1859 would destroy our electrical grid, satellites, reliance on cell phones, computers, the internet and force me to argue with my bank that they do have my money.

B.E. Earl said...

Have you been reading about the tech company that installed bluetooth tracking beacons in hundreds of pay phones in NYC, as well as other cities? They did so with the intention of gathering information from surrounding cell phones. Foot traffic, so-called anonymous demographic information of the phone owner...all in the name of targeting advertising to that area and/or person.

They installed these "information beacons" without any authority or permission from the city itself. Someone blabbed about it this week, and now the city is forcing the company to remove the beacons. I'm sure other cities will follow suit. Sure, it only worked on cell phones with bluetooth turned on (I never keep mine on), but it seems like a massive invasion of privacy to me.

This doesn't have much to do with AI, I guess. Unless you believe that this is our computer overlord's next step towards tracking, observing and eventually controlling us. I mean more than they already control us.

Already I have to "Please prove you're not a robot" just to leave a comment here. :)

Anonymous said...

South Park Syndrome.

The aliens are monitoring us via the cattle, and when they get here Ronald McDonald, Wendy, and Carl Junior are going to have a lot to answer for.


PS-It wouldn't hurt to mix in the salad bar now and again.

Erin O'Brien said...

That business in NY is absolutely chilling.