- October 5, 2017
A-I, A-I, Uh Oh!
“…And on that farm he had a robotic mad cow –
A-I, A-I, Uh Oh!”
Okay, so you have to rush the words “robotic mad cow” to make the words go with the tune to “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” but you get the idea. Artificial animals and people featuring adaptable intelligence and the ability to learn: utopian dream-come-true or horrible nightmare scenario waiting to happen?
Of course, it’s common knowledge that the U.S. military engages remotely piloted aircraft – drones – with AI onboard. The next evolution, driverless cars, is on the way in as well.
Less known, perhaps, is what’s going on with creating synthetic animals, including people.
In recent news, Google’s Alphabet sold Boston Dynamics to Japanese telecom, finance, and media conglomerate and mergers and acquisitions fore-runner Softbank in June of this year (2017). According to Wikipedia, the Forbes Global 2000 ranked Softbank as the 62nd largest public company worldwide.
Softbank had already, on June 5, 2014, unveiled Pepper, an innocent, cartoony-looking robot. Notwithstanding that Pepper is built purely for entertainment, the Japanese apparently believe anime is true, and envision a world run by intelligent robots. It isn’t clear what the Japanese plan to do with all their resultant leisure time.
Boston Dynamics builds to spec. Among their achievements:
1) BigDog – a series of four-legged robots developed under a DARPA project as pack animals. They have built-in stabilizers and can get up immediately after falling down. After spending oodles on this military project, it was scrapped because the BigDogs are too noisy for combat use.
2) Undeterred, Boston Dynamics also rolled out Handle, a two-wheeled, four-legged robot that can do heavy lifting but has no head, which is a little bit disconcerting.
BigDog & Handle by Boston Dynamics
3) Atlas is more human-looking, can balance, compensate for uneven terrain, and climb with both hands and feet. Featuring sensor-equipped, articulated hands and head with stereo camera “eyes” and laser sights, Atlas will be able to use tools. But can it tie balloon animals?
Atlas & Spot Mini by Boston Dynamics
4) Cheetah runs 28.3 mph, and sprang forth from DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation project. The mere name of this fund-sucking op sounds ominous, doesn’t it?
House favorite is, of course, is Boston Dynamic’s YouTube video of the Swearing Robot, a less-threatening, profanity-using laborer Atlas who walks over the rough ground of the snowy forest outside to lift and chase after knocked-away boxes in a warehouse setting. From “I am the universe!” to “Ow! What the f*ck, Kevin?” it’s hard not to like this robot.
The Swearing Robot, an Atlas by Boston Dynamics
Other companies are busy developing robotic animals. There are robotic fish, jellyfish, monkeys, kangaroos, dragonflies, ants and bats. All could be weaponized, of course, in the wrong hands.
iSplashII by PhD student Richard James Clapham and Prof. Huosheng Hu at Essex University
The fact that these devices exist today is disturbing enough, but what if Evil Doers “retrained” (reprogrammed) these “animals” and “people” – remember, these are actually machines, folks – to attack friendlies, as in Us the People?
Others are concerned about learning-capable, high-powered AIs. Since April 2013, a civic collective called the “Campaign to Stop Killer Robots” has been lobbying the UN and world governments to ban LAWs – Lethal Autonomous Weapons.
Having sold Boston Dynamics and gotten out of the killer robot business, Alphabet joined with Elon Musk (Tesla, Space, Inc.) to write an open letter to the UN to stop the development and use of lethal autonomous weapons. This just happened a little over a month ago, on August 20, 2017.
They agree with this writer that, once available, killer robots could be appropriated by Forces of Evil, by hack and by crack, to Do No Good.
Social media giant Facebook turned off its robots after they made up their own language, finding English too limiting and inefficient. Are these the kind of beings we want to spawn, those who regard Us who created Them as limited, emotional, and obsolete?
What possible interest do media and telecom giants like Softbank, Alphabet, and Facebook have in developing Artificial Intelligence? Why are these kinds of companies bidding on and winning military contracts?
Some critics believe that it is already too late to stop the development and use of robots for Good or Evil.
Will we heed the warnings of science futurists like Isaac Asimov, in his epic “I, Robot” and so many more books and articles, predicting the downside and dangers of Artificial Intelligence?
As for Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, first published in 1942 in his story “Runaround,” have we already violated them?
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
At least, by exposing the mechanics and inner workings of the Big Dog and other electro-mechanical contraptions equipped with “artificial intelligence” We the People can plan counter-measures. Let’s hope we never have to use them.