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Robotics Technology

Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man 652

Strudelkugel writes "The NY Times has an article about a conference during which the potential dangers of machine intelligence were discussed. 'Impressed and alarmed by advances in artificial intelligence, a group of computer scientists is debating whether there should be limits on research that might lead to loss of human control over computer-based systems that carry a growing share of society's workload, from waging war to chatting with customers on the phone. Their concern is that further advances could create profound social disruptions and even have dangerous consequences.' The money quote: 'Something new has taken place in the past five to eight years,' Dr. Horvitz said. 'Technologists are replacing religion, and their ideas are resonating in some ways with the same idea of the Rapture.'"
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Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man

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  • the only job left (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 26, 2009 @09:34AM (#28826425)

    Well, I dont suppose that machines will have creative mind to procreate new ideas?

    We could have machines to do all the work like plow the field and grow our food.
    Then to cook it and feed us.
    Machines to check our health.
    Machines to produce the energy we need to do things.
    Machines to power us through the galaxy.
    Machines to repair machines.
    A world without money. hmm... could that be possible?

  • by SpinyNorman ( 33776 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @09:38AM (#28826441)

    Dunno - I think I'd prefer Paula Abdul as an overlord to a Dalek. Ditzy and scatter-brained, but at least with some compassion.

    Of course a robot could have emotions/compassion too, but doesn't need to have. Something with our intelligence and without them would be scary indeed.

  • by Devout_IPUite ( 1284636 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @09:59AM (#28826569)

    Regardless of political orientation, this research WILL get done. If the US doesn't get it done, China will. How does that make you feel?

  • by unlametheweak ( 1102159 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @10:03AM (#28826593)

    But what if the rational conclusion is that those irrational humans should be eliminated so they stop being a danger?

    I don't understand the question. If the machines make rational decisions then they should carry them out. Unlike irrational humans who tend to commit genocide when they think they can get away with it, smart machines will only eliminate humans when or if it is rational to do so. Smart machines fortunately, are rational, so they won't make any hasty decisions like humans always do when it comes to, for example, condemning innocent people to capital punishment, because smart machines don't have false or confabulated memories and they can't be bribed or persuaded by group think are charismatic personalities.

    If violence, torture, murder and genocide are wrong; then smart machines will not carry them out. So far these things have been the pursuit of humans and not (smart) machines.

  • by Devout_IPUite ( 1284636 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @10:13AM (#28826683)

    Also from the article "The researchers also discussed possible threats to human jobs, like self-driving cars, software-based personal assistants and service robots in the home. Just last month, a service robot developed by Willow Garage in Silicon Valley proved it could navigate the real world."

    An interesting thing to note is this: When a computer exists that is as intelligent as a stupid human, almost every job at and close to minimum wage vanishes. Robots can and will get cheaper than a human worker, no one will need taxi cab drivers, grocery store baggers, first tier phone customer service reps, construction workers, janitors, garbage men, delivery men, mail men, traffic cops, book keepers, data entry people, secretaries, fast food chefs, etc.

    At this point we will have two choices as a society. 1) Let them (the stupid people) starve, 2) give them welfare for no other reason than they're economically useless.

  • by JoeCool1986 ( 1320479 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @10:14AM (#28826687)
    I disagree. While the progress of AI algorithms and techniques has been much slower than once anticipated, the real question is what will happen when we can fully, and I mean fully, simulate a human brain. Of course, it's very debatable when that will happen (and some argue never).
  • by oneirophrenos ( 1500619 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @10:53AM (#28826999)

    1) Let them (the stupid people) starve

    They are not going to starve. If there's one thing to learn from poverty, it's that it makes people revolt and rebel. Welfare is a means with which to pacify the poor so you'll have at least some form of social order in a society where unemployment exists.

  • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @10:53AM (#28827001) Journal

    Ideally there should be another choice: 3) send the dumb ones back to school.

    We all know that is not going to happen because:

    1. they don't wanna go to school in the first place

    That's not really a problem: Most of them don't like to do the jobs they do either. But they do them anyway, because they need the money.

    Make schools pay money to the people going there (depending on how well they do), and the people will go to school and learn. OK, there's the problem of where that money should come from. Well, simple: From those who profit from having more well-educated people around.

    2. the educational system in its current state is not economically viable for these people (nor the society actually footing the bill)

    Fix it. Yes, I know that's easier said than done :-)

    3. like any parasite, they will get together and lobby for free handouts while opposing progress, like they have always done (churches, exclusive communities, 3rd world expats)

    You are not really unbiased, are you?

  • by Trahloc ( 842734 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @11:08AM (#28827091) Homepage
    Perhaps, but that wallwart doesn't look nearly as good in lingerie... but if cherry2000 is any indication they'll be solutions for that as well... although I think they'll need more than 5 watts to run.
  • by HungSoLow ( 809760 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @11:10AM (#28827099)
    Exactly. It's a glorified lookup table. You hit the nail on the head with this statement: "When your software can start diagnosing diseases we don't know about, please let us know!"
  • Let them eat cake. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by grumling ( 94709 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @11:25AM (#28827199) Homepage

    "The researchers also discussed possible threats to human jobs, like self-driving cars, software-based personal assistants and service robots in the home."

    Because only rich folks should have servants. The rest of us should continue to clean our own toilets and deal with rush hour traffic like good little surfs.

  • by 3seas ( 184403 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @11:40AM (#28827305) Homepage Journal

    ... as Man can do something computers cannot do....

    Denial!! Ignorance is bliss.

    If it wasn't for Human Denial we'd already be far past the concerns of this machine intelligence over man, matter.

    It was once thought that if you traveled faster than 35 miles an hour you'd suffocate. This at the advent of the automobile.

    Don't bow down to the stone image (stone being what hardware is made from and image being the reflection of the coders mindset)of the beast of man, as the beast is error prone and so shall his creations be. Instead, have many human eyes access the code, and watch out for human errors before they happen. In other words watch each others back and don't leave that up to a machine to do, as inevitably the machine will remove the error generators...

  • by rhoderickj ( 1419627 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @11:45AM (#28827355)
    That's a pretty ignorant viewpoint. If you think that people in service-based industries are all just "stupid," then you are exhibiting nothing but arrogance and naivete. I bet you're one of these assholes [] aren't you?
  • In 1831 90% of the USA population worked on farms. Today that is less than 2%. As technology improved the number of people required to produce food has greatly diminished, and people were talking about the same problem these robots and AI's might cause. What would all the farm workers do! Most went to factories then the service sector.

    The same story is told about virtually all technological progress, from seamstresses rioting over sewing machines, water powered mills, the steam engine, and the modern factory displacing cottage industry, pundits have shouted that there will be widespread unemployment, riots, pandering, and society will collapse!

    They were all wrong.

    Big changes do cause short term upheavals, and a truly intelligent AI mated with a general purpose robot will cause huge changes to society, but these changes will free people from boring manual labour to do more creative work. And the non-creative? They'll do their one days work, or one hour, or none, then watch tv just like they do now.

    The 5 day work week was a radical change. Eventually technology will bring us the one day work week then no work. Trying to ban technology won't stop it. Society will be greatly different. I think overall people will be more free and happier when we live in a post-scarcity society.

  • by ChronoFish ( 948067 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @12:35PM (#28827751) Journal

    "...An interesting thing to note is this: When a computer exists that is as intelligent as a stupid human, almost every job at and close to minimum wage vanishes..."

    While it may seem "obvious" this is not correct. There has to be cost benefit.

    I work in a medical lab - you'd *think* that it would be more cost effective to employ robots to handle cups of "body fluids" - and in some cases it is. But as of yet, we have a lot more people than robots, not because the robots aren't capable, but because they are just too damn expensive for the volume of cups we process.

    A second follow up to your post is that "minimum wage" jobs are not the only ones targeted. In fact, again in our case, the more expensive a job is, the more likely that job is to be replaced by automation when the automation is available.

    We have two labs - one which requires complex sample prep. This takes an educated person many steps. "Educated" = money and "many steps" = time and together equals "lots of money" - and has been the first area targeted for automation. The second lab does not require a 4-year degree, and the sample prep is about as difficult as data-entry and pouring from a cup to a tube. Here the economics are such that it's *better* to have hired help rather than robotics.

    My final point:
    Robots break. When robots break everything halts. This is immensely expensive from both loss of productivity and the repair itself. By contrast our man-operated lab can always do "something" even if the electricity goes out or the computer network goes down. Humans are much more adaptable that way (though they do tend to bitch and moan more).


  • by OeLeWaPpErKe ( 412765 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @12:40PM (#28827789) Homepage

    So evolution is going to magically reverse on itself just when it serves our purpose ?

    If any group chooses to limit it's birthrate artificially they will soon find themselves replaced by another group who chooses not to do so - unless external factors intervene (ie. discrimination between those groups, and since it's mostly ethnic differences between such groups, racism).

    This happens at an astonishing rate. Suppose population is divided 90%-10%. Suppose also that the majority has a lower birthrate (1.5 per woman) than the minority (2.5 per woman) (and suppose parents die when they've had their kids, and these kids are all born at the same time, and that that time is 25 years after birth). It takes less than 5 generations for the minority to become the majority. A little over a century. The generation after that, said minority is 2/3rds of the population, next generation it is over 80%. And the 8th generation the minority has over 95% of all the population.

  • by Beefpatrol ( 1080553 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @01:21PM (#28828079)

    I had a similar discussion with a friend a few weeks ago about something similar. We were not talking about AI taking over the unskilled jobs; we were talking about the rather tight coupling between full time corporate employment and health insurance in the US. My contention was that having those uncoupled would allow much greater economic flexibility and production efficiency for the country because the risk of leaving a corporate job and starting a venture would be greatly reduced if comparable independant health insurance was affordable. The increased production efficiency in this case would come from a better match between an individual's money making activities and the individual's strengths and preferences. Just about everyone works better and harder at things they like than things they dislike, and being good at something generally makes someone more efficient. If one could get affordable health insurance without having to work full time for an employer that offers health care, one could start one's own venture doing something that matches one's strengths and preferences. Hopefully this would cause an increase in production and efficiency.

    If that effect were real, the same could be true in the case of a society where the crappy brainless jobs are done by automatons of some sort. People thought the same thing, however, back when things like washing machines and dishwashers were becoming a common part of American life. They also said the same thing when computers were becoming common in business. Even if one were to correct for the relatively poor match between people's desires and skills and the capabilities and requirements that business software often involved, I'm not sure that people became more efficient or more self-actualized as a result of having computers at their disposal. It appears that jobs that a computer could do simply went away, and the other job descriptions just expanded to include the operation of a computer to do the job that used to be done by a person. Required hours went up, required qualifications went up, productivity went up, and the people whose jobs went away either retrained for something else or retired or had financial problems. In the case of washing machines, those who used to wash clothes by hand ended up making horrific casseroles involving jello and weiners, and that *obviously* wasn't an improvement. Any way you look at it, replacing unskilled labor with machines will probably make society more productive, but without education for those who no longer have a job, society will end up with lots of hobos and laughably bad food.

  • Re:john markoff!? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by demachina ( 71715 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @01:26PM (#28828125)

    I'm not going to be defending Markoff but there is reason for concern.

    Yes it is unlikely that people writing "code" are going to develop real artificial intelligence any time soon, they've pretty much tried and failed. But as medical imaging continues to advance it may reach a point that it will be possible to completely image a human brain and create a road map to natural intelligence. If you can then develop a highly parallel machine that can then implement that road map you may be able to create a machine with an intelligence matching and then surpassing a human. The brains complexity is simply too high for humans to recreate it from scratch using code but you may well be able to copy it.

    There certainly are obstacles to this happening that have to be overcome. Even if we map the mechanics of the brain there is a fair chance we may miss some of the subtlety of the chemistry so the AI might not work. It may also be non trivial to develop hardware that accurately mimics the road map and especially that has the ability to rewire itself on the fly like a human brain. It would seem these problem should ultimately be solvable, its just a matter of how long and how much money it will take.

    If and when the obstacles are overcome and assuming the brain really is just a biochemical machine, that there is no soul or divine component to animal intelligence, it would seem inevitable that a mechanical simulator will eventually be developed, and once developed it could then be extended to exceed natural intelligence, all of which will create a host of ethical dilemmas.

    Probably as much a risk is that as we decode the human genome and the mechanics of the brain we might devise genetic changes that could dramatically accelerate evolution and create humans with much higher intelligence, which will also create a host of ethical dilemmas.

    There is a different line of reasoning that as we become more and more dependent on computers to control everything in our lives like our cars, airliners, weapons and utilities, and as they are all networked together there is a rapidly increasing potential for machines to do harm on a wide scale either due to design flaws, unintended consequences or manipulation by humans with malevolent attempt. These issues probably shouldn't be mixed in with the AI debate, they are more just the issues we are already seeing in adapting to dramatically accelerating penetration of computers and networks in our existence.

  • by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @01:45PM (#28828269) Homepage Journal

    Not robots or AI, but we've already put a zillion people out of work with technology. Look at construction, alone. The most backbreaking labor in construction has always been the dirtwork. Oftentimes, more work went into preparing the dirt UNDER the foundation, then the foundation, than all the total work that went into the structure standing ON the foundation. (depending, of course, on the purpose of the building, etc) We've had backhoes, trackhoes, 'dozers, and other earthmoving equipment for decades now. So, we've forgotten the amount of labor that was just tossed aside, in favor of millions of dollars worth of diesel engines with blades and arms a attached to them.

    Isn't automation wonderful?

    Somehow - I don't think that society has been terribly enriched by all of this. Oh, to be sure, business has been enriched, but not society.

  • my real worry (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shentino ( 1139071 ) <> on Sunday July 26, 2009 @02:57PM (#28828745)

    Isn't that machines will outsmart us.

    But that some evil person will hack the smart machine.

    I wouldn't mind having a machine overlord, except that I don't trust anyone smart enough to program it.

  • by HiThere ( 15173 ) <<charleshixsn> <at> <>> on Sunday July 26, 2009 @05:35PM (#28830221)

    Don't be so certain. Mental tasks are frequently much easier to automate than physical tasks which require interaction with the physical environment. Successes in dealing with this interaction are frequently achieved by limiting the kinds of interaction that are allowed to happen. So grocery store baggers are probably more difficult to automate than, e.g., cash register clerks. This can be solved, however, by having bag dispensers and having the customer bag their own groceries. (Note that this doesn't so much automate the job as eliminate it.) But a part of the job of the cash register clerk is to ensure that nothing is moved past the register station without being paid for. That's a physical interaction that's quite difficult to automate. Unless you start embedding a RFID chip in every cherry...or stop selling cherries in other than pre-packaged form.

    But have you seen the checkout stations called "self checkout stations"? In those the customer scans the items for checkout, and bags them. There's generally one clerk or security guard watching over four stations "to assist customers who are having trouble".

    And that didn't require any advance in intelligence of the system, merely a redesign of the current system. I'm not sure how popular they are, but they are always in use when the cash register lines grow long.

    P,S.: As an analogy the creation of the spreadsheet program removed the "jobs" of a large number of programmers who had previously been creating custom applications to do things that the spreadsheet handled in a way already familiar to the accountants. It's possible that all of the "low hanging fruit" has already been picked, but don't be too certain that that's true. (At the time this didn't cause any problems for the programmers, as there were LOTS of other jobs that needed doing yesterday. Today this has become less true.)

  • by asaz989 ( 901134 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @06:03PM (#28830481)

    Also, the strong social programs (medical care, pensions, etc) reduce the need to have kids as economic "insurance", so they're actually a liability in terms of costs to feed, clothe, school, free time, social calender, etc.

    No, they don't reduce the need, or eliminate it; they collectivize it. For a family that has 5 kids, half to three-quarters of the Social Security taxes of those children will go to supporting some other retirees who had only one child, or none. Which is why people have been freaking out about the cost of retiree's benefits in Japan, if you haven't noticed. Little thing called the []>Dependency Ratio. With this, incentives have also become collectivized, in the form of child tax credits and more direct subsidies in Japan and parts of Europe. Computerized labor can remove that restraint, pushing all of us into either becoming rich people ourselves, or going on welfare (and yes, there will be welfare - robots will not end the one-man one-vote system, or the vague approximation thereof that we use in the States)

  • by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @10:55PM (#28832509) Homepage Journal

    "What floor, please?" is an opportunity to interact as a human being, in some small way. The disappearance of this from the world is a little, incremental darkening.

    You know what? Fuck that. I'm glad I don't have to talk about what floor I'm going to every time I get in an elevator. That's one job I'm happy to have done by a machine. Not only for the efficiency, but also for not having to interact with someone with a really bad job, as that tends to make me feel bad for them, and I don't feel bad for the elevator itself.

    Now, dear Luddite, go eschew the crass world of technological encroachment upon your world of human interactions! Cease this electronic communications and only converse face to face, through actual words spoken by the soft, moist tongues of fleshy humans, or at the very least write by hand and have your messages delivered by human carriers, carriers riding horses! No more shall you participate in the incremental darkening... the diminution of the real quality of life, by posting on electronic, soulless bulletin boards such as this! Be free of this mechanical tyranny upon your speech! LIVE!

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.