the rise of the machine world 1

We are living through an interesting and potentially frightening time, and this is not a new aspect of life. Arguably, every time in human history has been an interesting and frightening time for those who lived through them. We’ll ignore here the obvious reason that we cannot see the future and we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

We create. Over our history, we have developed remarkable technologies: writing to allow for the further creation of systems of governmental control; knapping flint to create knives and axes; steel and gunpowder to facilitate the killing of one another. And much beyond. The technologies themselves are neutral, and what is important is how we use those technologies.

And now, we are creating something else. Watching or reading or listening to the news, we see example after example of how we are training the machine world to be the Skynet in our future. And there is a part of me that wonders, why. But only a part.

We do like our conveniences. Amazon recommends what we might want to read next, Netflix what we might want to watch next and Spotify what we might want to listen to next. Books and films and bands as yet undiscovered, brought to us by the power of algorithms that spend all their time watching and gathering and evaluating. We have come to enjoy allowing machines to mediate between us and the world around us.

Even more than this, we train our machines to recognize us by our faces and how we walk. We train our machines to read our handwriting, license plates and the printed word, and to make sense of the stories we tell each other.

Soon, we will have no place left to hide.

We’ve been writing about this moment for decades. We have been making movies and television about this moment for decades. We have been speculating about the form and motivations of our coming machine overlords for a long time, and we have explored a vast number of possibilities for how we will subject ourselves to the rule of machines.

But I’ll admit, what worries me isn’t the Singularity, machines developing intelligence and deciding that it would be more appropriate for them to be in charge than us.

No, what worries me are machines trained to follow rules but without the intelligence to know what they are doing. What worries me is the possibility that we come to be ruled by overlords that are the manifestation of algorithms trained by the data we provide, but just a blind algorithm.

I am sure that I cannot reasonably estimate what’s been written about this particular topic, and it isn’t one that I’ve yet explored. On the one hand, I now have another topic for reading and study and exploration. On the other hand, I’m tempted to use this as a door to walk through to explore my imagination. And perhaps I’ll take this latter route.

~ by Jim Anderson on 22 February 2020.

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