Flying on Autopilot into the future… dealing with Destination
We are on what may be our last flight into the future, beginning a transition to ubiquitous computing and Machine World. We have had fantasies for generations about superhuman beings, fantastic machines and systems with the power of thought and reason far beyond human capabilities. But now, it’s real. The machines are coming out of the labs and into our daily lives. Automated systems fly our airplanes, drive trucks, conduct warfare with human operators thousands of miles away.
This is, after all, a continuing flight. We started our journey to Machine World quite some time ago, and it has begun like many in our past. It’s been a smooth ride. Despite the occasional interruptions from the cockpit announcing changes in altitude, or course corrections to avoid turbulence, everything seems routine. But, this flight to the future does not seem to be about freedom and prosperity and hope. We are in uncharted territory. Machine World lies ahead.
It’s 2014, and summer has arrived in the northern hemisphere. Terry Gou, the head of the parent company of Foxconn (The gigantic Taiwan based electronics manufacturer with over a million employees in China) is on Bloomberg video talking about a new Chinese silicon valley in Guiyang and Foxconn’s newest campus, complete with a huge data center, research facilities, factory facilities. Last month Gou was in the news commenting about the 10,000 robotic systems in Foxconn factories, and his plan to manufacture and deploy 30,000 systems a year. Then there was the splashy announcement with SoftBank about the humanoid robot, Pepper, they plan to sell. Now Gou is talking about robots in his factories building robots in a few years.
Gou and Foxconn are not alone in this race to the future. In Silicon Valley, Google in on track to have self-driving automobiles ready to market in a few years, and they recently quit a DARPA sponsored robot competition and announced plans to market the robot. The monitors tracking our flight still show us some distance from our destination, but events suggest that our future is overtaking us at alarming speed.
Could we already be flying in Machine World airspace?
When we descend, will we land in Utopia, Apocalypse, or at some other paradigm shift destination?
Utopia has a nice ring to it. Welcome to UTOPIA’s “Zero Marginal Cost Society”. Capitalism has ended, and been replaced with a new economic paradigm. Here there is no scarcity, and the “Collaborative Commons” is where the action is. Ownership here is less important then access. Powered by technology and science, this destination seems too good to be true. But, if the “Zero Marginal Cost Society” is Utopian, the alternative, Apocalypse, is down right scary.
Jeremy Rifkin’s Utopian vision stands in stark contrast to the compelling view of our future James Barrat paints. “Our Final Destination” explores technologies like Artificial Intelligence, robotics and automation and examines various scenarios we may encounter. Ultimately, Barrat sees the “end of the human era”, and incredible risk on the road to Utopia. He points out the inherent risk in the development of Artificial Intelligence with super powers when coupled with autonomous robotic systems – a risk not unlike what we experienced with the unlocking of the power of the atom that led to defense strategies like M.A.D (Mutually Assured Destruction), and the chances of powerful and destructive runaway systems.
Given the increasing use of these technologies in the development of military weapons systems, and the speed at which we seem to be racing toward the development of Artificial Intelligence capabilities equal to human capabilities, one thing is clear – the clock is ticking.
The good news about risk is that it can be managed. The bad news about the risk Barrat describes is that the numbers of nations actively developing automated smart weapons technologies would seem to suggest that the there’s little hope of effective mitigation. This weapons race involves the US, European nations, Russia and China and others.
There is undeniable risk that we may never reach Machine World. Is there a viable scenario for another paradigm at the end of this flight? The ticket says; Destination – Machine World. Reading these two books, it is clear to me that there is no consensus on what Machine World is.
Are you ready for this journey? Machine World awaits.
I have added the two books mentioned in this post by Jeremy Rifkin and James Barrat to the Reading List.
Now for the movie.
Mahalo (Thanks) for visiting.