Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Auto Autonomous, Part One

Strange week. All kinds of items related to autonomous machines appeared from many different sources. Some were cars, some were trucks, and some were even weapons. Along with stories about super-intelligent computers, it was a chilling week.

First was a tiny link in my AAA magazine about the history of autonomous vehicles. For example, “1939: GM’s World’s Fair exhibit predicts driverless cars will be traveling along automated highways by 1960.”

The link also had this entry, “2035: By this date, experts predict 75 percent of cars on roadways will be autonomous.” Near by in the magazine was an article on the latest muscle car. Wonder how those will get along with autonomous cars.

On PBS this week, I learned about autonomous trucks and weapons (two separate stories). Driver-less semis are scary enough, without thinking about weapons deciding who’s a target.

I apologize if this is too much information, but I have more. In a word: taxicabs. Autonomous vehicles that will pick you up and deliver you to your destination. Didn’t we see that in the first Total Recall movie? After hearing about trucks and weapons, sounds very reasonable, doesn’t it?

What’s not reasonable is the talk about super-intelligent machines. It’s not coming from the people who want you to be passive passengers. No, it’s coming from those who can’t wait to worship the machine.

This attitude is rarely found among those studying artificial intelligence (AI) or those who are working to implement it. Rather, it comes from philosophers, pundits, and self-proclaimed futurists who know a little about AI and less about computers.

Led by Ray Kurzweil of Singularity fame, these predictions are based on a single insight known as Moore’s Law. It says the number of transistors on a chip (integrated circuit) doubles every two years. Ray, et al, claim this means computers are becoming exponentially more powerful.

They fail to comprehend the Law only applies to the hardware side of computers. Software is another kettle of badly-cooked fish. No one is foolish enough to suggest software is similarly improving.

Don’t take my word for the state of AI. Listen to an actual AI expert. Here’s the TED talk of Dr. Fei-Fei Li — Director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab.

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