AI

AI– Threat or Menace?


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on April 2, 2018

“Artificial intelligence will reach human levels by around 2029. Follow that out further to, say, 2045, we will have multiplied the intelligence, the human biological machine intelligence of our civilization a billion-fold.”

—Ray Kurzweil


We came of age imagining New Frontiers, an idyllic time of relative innocence when anything seemed possible: rockets that would travel to the moon like buses,  a permanent space station, and flying cars a la the Jetsons.  It was the go-go 50s and 60s, when an energized Team America sat astride the top of the world, with few limits on dreams and none on ambition. Optimism hung in the air like the scent of roses on a spring morning. 

In the America of the 1950s and 60s, the future was filled to bursting with promise.  A youthful and beloved president set the country a challenge to travel from the earth to the moon in a decade, which we did, though he did not live to see it.

Young people read about ENIAC, the first (room-sized) computer designed to compute artillery tables during WWII (and later used for nukes). Large mainframes followed; in went punchcards, out came reports. Even my high school had one. Science fiction writers, envisioning the future, foresaw robots who would reliably assist humans in a variety of tasks and, of course, adventures. As a boy, I had a toy Robby the Robot, a dutiful servant in the 1956 MGM science fiction film Forbidden Planet. Later on, as I begin to read science fiction, I encountered Isaac Asimov's original three laws of robotics.

Introduced in his 1942 short story "Runaround" and included in I, Robot, The Three Laws are:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

These laws provided themes for Asimov's robotic-based fiction, and were devoured by young adults. Intended as a safety feature, The Laws could not be bypassed,. This led to interesting plot twists in many of Asimov's robot-focused stories, as robots react in unusual and counter-intuitive ways as a consequence of how the robot applies the Three Laws to a given situation. Other authors working in Asimov's fictional universe adopted them and over time, we seem to have taken them as a given.

They are not. The utopian futures envisioned to earlier writers have given way to Terminator robots, and Skynet, to say nothing of pilotless drones raining relentless death down on wedding parties. We're a long way from Robby the Robot.


The notion of intelligent automata, a non-human intelligence, dates back to ancient times. More recently, computer technology may trace itself to back to Charles Babbage and his Difference Engine, but "artificial intelligence" can be traced back to 1956 and a conference at Dartmouth where the term was coined. Research in the field ebbed and flowed over decades, and has clearly benefited most recently from in increases in computing power. In 1997, when IBM's Deep Blue defeated Russian grandmaster Garry Kasparov, and in 2011, when IBM's Watson won the quiz show "Jeopardy!" by beating reigning champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings, a technological Rubicon had been crossed.

It's neither my purpose nor within my ability to trace all of the meaningful developments in AI, but thought it might be useful to consider AI's implications for the future. And yes, I am aware that for much of this discursion I am conflating robotics and AI, but since both rely on vast increases in processing power to be fully realized, keep your rotten vegetables in the bag and bear with me.

“The miraculous has become the norm.” –Jonathan Romney

Sales of manufacturing robots increase each year. According to The International Federation of Robotics, robot sales in 2015 showed a 15% increase over the prior year. The IFR estimates that over 2.5 million industrial robots will be at work in 2019, a growth rate of 12% between 2016 and 2019. Workers have been working side-by-side with robots for decades. My wife's father was a foreman at Ford who worked with robots in the 70s, so robotic work technology is common. But the predicted rate of adoption, coupled with the prospects of driverless fleets, raises the question of what happens to the jobs? And the workers?

No doubt robots increase productivity and competitiveness. This productivity can lead to increased demand and new job opportunities, often in more highly skilled and better-paying jobs. Yet for all this rosy optimism, fear nags. More often, it leads right to profits for the owners and immiseration for the laid off.

Several years ago, author and futurist Ray Kurzweil referred to a point in time known as "the singularity," that point at which machine intelligence exceeds human intelligence. Based on the exponential growth of technology based on Moore's Law (which states that computing processing power doubles approximately every two years), Kurzweil has predicted the singularity will occur by 2045.

“The pace of progress in artificial intelligence is incredibly fast. Unless you have direct exposure to groups like Deepmind, you have no idea how fast—it is growing at a pace close to exponential. The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five-year timeframe. 10 years at most.” —Elon Musk

Several thinkers worth listening to, including the late physicist Stephen Hawking and entrepreneur Elon Musk, warn that the development of AI portends cause for concern.

"The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race," Hawking told the BBC, in response to a question about his new voice recognition system, which uses artificial intelligence to predict intended words. (Hawking had a form of the neurological disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, and communicated using specialized speech software.)

And Hawking isn't alone. Musk told an audience at MIT that AI is humanity's "biggest existential threat." He also once tweeted, "We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes."

Despite these high-profile fears, other researchers argue the rise of conscious machines is a long way off. Says Charlie Ortiz, AI head of a Massachusetts-based software company, "I don't see any reason to think that as machines become more intelligent … which is not going to happen tomorrow — they would want to destroy us or do harm. Lots of work needs to be done before computers are anywhere near that level."

Reassured yet?

“By far, the greatest danger of Artificial Intelligence is that people conclude too early that they understand it.”              —Eliezer Yudkowsky

“Someone on TV has only to say, ‘Alexa,’ and she lights up. She’s always ready for action, the perfect woman, never says, ‘Not tonight, dear.’” —Sybil Sage

"Alexa, make me a cocktail, willya?" Not quite yet, but perhaps soon, as companies are incorporating AI into their products. From smartphone assistants to driverless cars, Google is positioning itself be a major player in the future of AI. Amazon and Apple have staked out their own strong positions, as the ubiquity of digital assistants like Siri and Alexa makes them ghostly familiars… with access to your personal information, internet search histories, text messages and porn habits. And with Facebook and hundreds of apps hoovering up our personal information for resale to unseen third parties for purposes available only on a need to know basis, and you don't need to know…

… because YOU are the product.

"Machine learning" is a term of art referring to computer systems that learn from data. Time was computers followed instructions and performed computations for data crunching. Today's devices use a set of machine-learning algorithms, collectively referred to as "deep learning," that allow a computer to recognize patterns from massive amounts of data. This is a deep and profound change, the implications of which we have not yet grasped. And if we have not grasped it, how can we control it or appreciate its repercussions?

Recently AI developed its own non-human language. Researchers at the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research training their chatbot “dialog agents” to negotiate, described how the bots made up their own way of communicating.

At one point, the researchers write, they had to tweak one of their models because otherwise the bot-to-bot conversation “led to divergence from human language as the agents developed their own language for negotiating.” They had to use what’s called a fixed supervised model instead.

In other words, the model that allowed two bots to have a conversation—and use machine learning to constantly iterate strategies for that conversation along the way—led to those bots communicating in their own non-human language… the fact that machines will make up their own non-human ways of conversing is an astonishing reminder of just how little we know, even when people are the ones designing these systems.

So Facebook had to pull the plug because in a short period of time, the robots had developed their own language. Not sure about you, but when I envision a future where I attempt a transaction with online chatbots armed not only with a chip full of predictive algorithms, but also in possession of the entire dossier of personal information gleaned from every keystroke I've ever recorded, well, I'm not liking my odds. Here is your "permanent record" made real.

And then the prospect of the Internet of Things (IoT), a galaxy of sensors embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. This is made possible by more ubiquitous broadband internet is become more widely available, less expensive connection costs, and more devices created with Wi-Fi capabilities and sensors built in.  I already know my phone and TV listen to me; will they next connive against me in concert with the refrigerator and the coffee maker? Encourage the air conditioner to go on strike?

All roads in AI seem to lead to dystopia. Our inability to imagine a more positive future for artificial intelligence may stem from the fact that we've lost faith in ourselves. We're seen the tech companies in action, and they are opaque. And they sell the data mined with impunity to unseen actors. Our morality is defined not by the Church or in civic pride, but by the spreadsheet; our worth found in the lower right-hand corner. Knowing we are cooking the planet, we insist on burning the last few gallons of liquid sunlight left ion the ground to wring the last few dollars of profit. We willingly sacrifice children to the profits of the Slaughter Lobby. We elect louts to lead us, accept sabotage as political business-as-usual, embrace treason as a cost of doing business. Under the circumstances, who would dare possibly envision a happier future?

Who could imagine Asimov's Three Laws emerging from any part of today's debased culture?


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and was active in Occupy. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary in quiet and richly-deserved obscurity. He will have failed if not prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the current administration.

Navigating the Blockchain: Drones, Droids and BitCoins

Off the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on Peak Surfer on July 5, 2015

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A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.


— Isaac Asimov, Runaround (1942)Barack Obama may be remembered for many things — becoming the first Hawaiian President of the United States, withdrawing allied forces from epic military disaster in the Muslim World, dismantling market moral hazard, and reopening Cuba to the mob — but his most lasting legacy may be still to come.

There is a revolution quietly taking shape in Air Force joystick cubicles near Las Vegas, in the Horn of Africa, the Tribal Territories of Pakistan, the DMZ of Korea, and in secret sites in Tel Aviv and Kiev. Autonomous Robot drones are evolving capability to select and execute targets of opportunity.   

The word robot comes from the Czech word robota meaning forced labor, and is generally attributed to a 1924 play by Karel Capek. The idea that men will build machines that may all too easily destroy their creators runs back through Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Greek mythology. We have a deeply engrained wariness of anything that might knock us out of our place as top-predator in the food chain. And yet, we ignore these death machines we are building, seeing nothing more threatening than a good movie script. 

The median response from Artificial Intelligence programmers when asked when AI-droids will have better processing power than humans is 2030. Put another way, the coming generations of flying robots that kill their human prey from 10,000 feet up will be smarter than people in about 15 years, barring total collapse of petroleum civilization, or maybe even because of it.

Removing Asimov's three laws from the kernel of killer robot CPUs is a death wish. Actually, Asimov wrote four laws. The fourth or zeroth law that outranked the others:

0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.


Blockchain

 
 In the midst of the 2008 financial meltdown, the open source protocol for a public asset ledger called the blockchain was put forward. The core of this invention was the idea of decentralized consensus on a large scale, an app version of Occupy, if you will.

From the blockchain emerged BitCoin. BitCoin was modeled on the gold standard for valuing transportable wealth – there was a finite supply but it could be "mined" to enlarge what was available for transactions by users. New gold went to miners who solved mathematical problems. The Cyberpunk community extolled its virtues:

"Psychopathic tendencies as the side effect of extreme individuality can be brought into balance within a new social contract, enforced by Satoshi’s perfect market with its equilibrium of supply and demand. Characteristics that are often considered negative in society such as risk taking, calculated selfish acts and profit motives can now be channeled to serve a larger shared vision of a more free society.

 

***
 

"Instead of arms races and financial wars, with bitcoin the competition for solving a mathematical problem helps to achieve a global level security infrastructure. This new flow of currency has the potential to end financial apartheid and begin serving the unbanked and underbanked that have been excluded from the current financial system. It can free those who are restrained by rent-seekers and subjugated to financial colonization. Out of the torrents emerging through the massive hashing power, the torus of a new heart grows and with every beat expands our collective goodwill to flow throughout the entire network."


— Nozomi Hayase, Taming the Beast  

Anytime someone comes on to us like a Snake Oil salesman, we check to make sure we still have our wallet, even if that wallet is now an app on our wristwatch.

Actually, this exuberance is immediately suspect in the case of bitcoin because "free" coins will gravitate towards whomever has the most computing power, leaving a 99 percent of lesser power users to purchase from the 1 percent who get theirs for "free." This is not a paradigm shift, it merely shifts the elite class (temporarily) from banksters to any hackers with supercomputer access and an ability to pay the electric bill.

The top coin miners have a Red Queen problem. In the Queen’s race in Alice in Wonderland, everyone runs faster and faster and no-one gets ahead. In coin mining, more and more computing power is required to solve the mathematical problems. The software underpinning the network reacts to successful miners by elevating difficulty, so hackers add even more computing power, and so on. 

As this cycle speeds, it takes more datacenter CPU heat, and more cooling electricity, to mine a bitcoin. The computational power of the bitcoin mining network surpassed the world's top 500 supercomputers in 2013. On average, for every megawatt of electricity spent mining bitcoins, 0.65 tons (1300lbs) of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. Dave Carlson, founder of Megabigpower, a mining datacentre in Washington state, figures he spends 240 kWh and releases 312 lbs of CO2 for each coin he mines. Worldwide, bitcoin mining generates about 25 tons CO2 per hour, or 219,000 tons per year. This is not virtual CO2. This is real CO2.

Can the blockchain prevent HSBC’s illegal money laundering for Mexican drug cartels? No. It makes it easier. Nigeria is already becoming a blockchain haven for Citibank, with ambitions to colonize all of payments space. If it seems oddly ironic to speak of Nigeria as a colonial power, just remember how quick its entrepreneurs were to colonize and monetize spam.

Does Citibank have any compunction about employing the fastest available processing power to (a) game bitcoin mining; (b) replace devalued bitcoins with its own CitiCoin; and (c) unleash predatory trading algorithms from the blockchain that operate at warp speed or even employ quantum mechanics to execute trades before they are even imagined by the trading partners? 

The Cyberpunk response is that blockchain transparency will flush the bandit algorithms. But one man's bandit is another's freedom fighter, layering, spoofing, and generating wash trades. The sheriff (SEC, FIRA, FBI, or a State or US Attorney) is outgunned and doesn't usually want to do anything that might jeopardize his/her pension, or the party in power. 

In his White House War Room, The Commander-in-Chief is assured that if we don't do this first, our rivals will. And so we drift, towards unparalleled catastrophe.

Above, circling the heavens, are autonomous killer drones that keep getting smarter by the year. In a world where all things connected to the Internet are hackable, so too are they.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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