artificial intelligence

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.

Hot Rockin’

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Published on Peak Surfer on August 7, 2016

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"All that is necessary to open up unlimited resources of power throughout the world is to find some economic and speedy way of sinking deep shafts." — Nikola Tesla, Our Future Motive Power, 1931
 

 

 

Like many in the Peak Everything/Age of Limits psychographic, we find ourselves rolling our eyes whenever we hear techno-utopians describing AI implants, self-driving Teslas and longevity DNA-splices. We know all too well that each Google search uses enough energy to boil a cup of water, and that the average cellphone adds one ton of carbon to the atmosphere each year – roughly 3 jet passenger trips back and forth between New York and Cancun.

The insularity of Silicon Valley leads to confirmation bias, to the point where someone like Kevin Kelly, in a recent Long Now talk, can describe the diversification of Artificial Smartness as "alien intelligences" without grasping that we have, right now living amongst us, vastly diverse typologies of intelligence in the biological world, but that our overconsuming, polluting technosphere is killing them off in the Sixth Mass Extinction before we even grok their quantum entanglement.

In Kelly's view we will soon be tapping into artificial, alien intellect like we do electricity or wifi. We will become cyber-centaurs — co-dependent humans and AIs. All of us will need to perpetually upgrade just to stay in the game. And power-up too.

Groan. The digital divide on steroids.

We've opined in many posts here that we thought a rubber-road interface would soon be upon this kind of techonarcissism. Limits will be in the driver's seat again. But oddly enough, it might not be the energy shortfall that pitches all that Teslarati into the ditch.

There is no shortage of energy and there never has been.

Take it back an Ice Age or two. So we discovered fire. Get over it! Being stupid apes, we have become completely obsessed with fire. So now we are burning down the house.

All around us there are much more abundant forms of energy than fire. Consider the gravitational pull of the moon that raises oceans. Consider the spin of the Earth, or the latent heat within its slowly cooling core. Who needs dilithium crystals? We travel through space aboard a dynamo.
 

Nicola Tesla

In the eight years since the post below was originally published in the summer of 2008, it has received a grand total of 68 page views, many of which were doubtless our own. Not wanting to see such gems disappear into the akashic records without at least a few more reads, we're republishing in this summer re-run series.

Bear in mind that Nicola Tesla was a steampunk. In Iceland we can see steam and hydrogen being generated by geothermal heat, but the Teslovian technology being applied — pumped water and steam — is inefficient and self-defeating. It sets up a depletion curve — years to decades — because it cools the magma. Apply today's dielectric alloys instead of steam and you can imagine live current from the temperature differential without cooling the Earth below. But have a look.

Hot Rockin'

Drill, Drill, Drill say the Republicans
Drill, Drill, Drill say the Democrats
Drill, Drill, Drill says McCain
Drill, Drill, Drill says Obama
It polls well.
And, meanwhile, the climate just goes to Hell.

It is interesting to see the major oil companies take on a really tough challenge, like drilling deep continental or deep ocean sites. In order to drill the Bakken formation, where gigatons of carbon deposits are entombed beneath the wheat fields of North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, they are going to have to go very deep, into very hard and hot rock.

Even tougher challenges await Chevron's mega-well, Jack 2 in the Gulf of Mexico, or Petrobras' Saudi-scale Tupi or Carioca fields in the equatorial Atlantic off Brazil. Individual wells in those fields are expected to run $180 million to $200 million each, assuming Big Oil can even solve the impressive technical issues.

Engineers are estimating three decades will be needed to develop alloys for drills and pipes that can withstand the heat 2 to 6 miles down, with 18,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, and temperatures above 500° Fahrenheit (260°C).

Two years ago, Exxon Mobil and Chevron saw diamond-crusted drill bits disintegrate and steel pipes crumple when they attempted to tap deep deposits in the outer continental shelf. Anadarko Petroleum is successfully extracting natural gas under a mere 8,960 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico, where pressure measures 3,069 pounds per square inch, but it costs a lot to keep replacing imploded joints and ruptured seals.

Pumping oil from the Brazilian fields, parts of which are 32,000 feet (10,000 m) below the surface, will require drilling more than three times the depth of the Anadarko wells and almost twice the world’s deepest Gulf wells, in the Tahiti lease, which cost Chevron $4.7 billion to produce.

But here is the irony. At those depths, the heat is a constant. In energy output worldwide, it measures in the exoWatt range. It could power everything. And you don’t have to sail halfway across the Gulf of Mexico, down into the South Atlantic, or up to the North Pole to find it. Wherever you are on Earth, it is right below you.

We’ve known about this energy source, deep geothermal, for centuries, and we have known how to go about harnessing it, big time, for decades. In 1932, Nicola Tesla wrote in The New York Times, “It is noteworthy that …  in 1852 Lord Kelvin called attention to natural heat as a source of power available to Man. But, contrary to his habit of going to the bottom of every subject of his investigations, he contented himself with the mere suggestion.”

Tesla went on, “The arrangement of one of the great terrestrial-heat power plants of the future (illustration). Water is circulated to the bottom of the shaft, returning as steam to drive the turbine, and then returned to liquid form in the condenser, in an unending cycle…. The internal heat of the earth is great and practically inexhaustible….”

Karl Grossman produced a piece on it for WVVH-TV in Long Island. You can see that on YouTube. An MIT study in 2007 estimated you could produce 100 GWe (the equivalent of 1000 coal plants) for less than the cost of a single coal plant.

So why can’t we see the forest for the trees?

Too Big to Scale

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Published on Peak Surfer on April 3, 2016

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"We’re looking at The Cloud from both sides now."

While it is not likely that the heterodox economist E.F. "Fritz" Schumacher was the first to use the term “appropriate technology” — he preferred “intermediate technology” — he certainly had a big role in defining it. In Small is Beautiful he described it as the “middle way,” which dovetailed nicely with his elucidation of Buddhist economics, or what Mohandas Gandhi called "Economy of Permanence." 

According to Schumacher, a technology is appropriate to preserve, adopt and adapt if it is truly village scale, lying in that mid-range between individualistic technology (toothbrush, smartphone, coffee cup) and industrial-scale (pharmaceutical laboratory, steel mill, railroad).

Examples of village scale are the old bakery, perhaps a large stone or brick oven where families bring their doughs to become breads; the bicycle repair shop; or a family-run tofu shop (as in the 10,000 or more in any large Japanese city) because handcrafted tofu is much to be preferred in taste, texture and nutrition over machine-produced.

 

James Earl Jones as Locust-Man

As early as the 1960s Schumacher, as president of the UK Soil Association, was correctly diagnosing what was wrong with the atom as an energy source. In 1977 he published A Guide for the Perplexed as a critique of materialist scientism. It was also a foray into the nature and organization of knowledge. He championed the style of Ivan Illich's conviviality: user-friendly and ecologically suitable; applicable to the scale of the human and natural community.

Born in the late 1940s, we were witness to Moore’s Law from its birth. We watched electric typewriters replace manual portables, then IBM Selectrics arrive with their changeable font-balls and auto-erase tape. We were there when punch cards and tape readers began to type form letters like a player piano. From the days of our youth, hand calculators kept getting smarter than we were. 

In the late 70s we automated our Plenty Office and the Book Publishing Company with arrays of linked, part home-brew, part off-the-shelf, CPU-and-dumb-terminal minicomputers. Soon came inexpensive personal computers that put desktop publishing and spreadsheets into the hands of the masses and made small fortunes for Apple, Atari, Dell and Texas Instruments.

Office networks of linked hard-drives using first ethernet and then wireless LANs and WANs were middle scale appropriate technology as long as you could service the devices or maybe even build them yourselves within the village. All was well on this good earth. Desktop computers were like tractors or teams of oxen, shortening the time it took you to furrow your inbox or do your taxes.  

Then came The Cloud upon the land. Cut to the scene in The Good Earth where the Chinese farmers look to the sky as their faces darken — the locusts are here! That was about 10 years ago, or 5 generations in factor-four Silicon Time.

Boston-based research outfit Forrester calls cloud computing—that’s public cloud computing—a “hyper-growth” market. In a recent report, it predicts the market for cloud services will grow to $191 billion by 2020, a 20 percent leap from what it predicted just a few years ago. “The adoption of cloud among enterprises, which is really where the money is, has really picked up steam,” Forrester analyst John Rymer recently told us. “It’s a big shift. The cloud has arrived. It’s inevitable.”

– Cade Metz, Wired 12-22-15


Getting back into our annual workshop schedule here at The Farm, we find ourselves stuck without a middle way, with no “village scale” with regard to either email or accounting. We have always suffered the digital divide by electing to live in a rural area in a country without Net Neutrality, but we take clean air and birdsong more seriously than ones and zeros.

What passes for broadband in rural Tennessee would be laughable in Romania or Thailand. We live beyond the profitable reach of the cable companies, or even DSL from the quasi-federal phone monopoly. Getting a dumbphone mobile connection here can be challenging, never mind G3 or G4. We pay far too much for far too little connectivity, but then, welcome to the unpaved precincts. Have you seen the stars at night?
 

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

— Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now (May, 1969)


We’re looking at The Cloud from both sides now. Many, if not all, of the email and accounting packages that have the capabilities we need have discontinued stand-alone functionality and hard drive data storage on your personal device in favor of wireless subscription plans. An unbeckoned choice is being thrust upon us. Either we late-migrate to the Cloud and trust in her all-knowing beneficence (and suffer indignities whenever there is no connection) or we put up with rapidly-shrinking features and capabilities. 
 
For code-writers keeping legacy software working may be somewhat easier. But most code-writers are Cloud addicts, not old school.

We use Photoshop but seldom have need for the other Adobe apps packaged into their (formerly $3650) Master Suite. To us it was worth several hundred dollars plunked down every few years to have that one app. We’ve tried GIMP and other freeware but they are no substitute for Photoshop. Now a subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud would cost us about $2,400 — assuming the price doesn’t go up. And that is just one subscription, from one cloud provider.

Microsoft rolled out Office 365 in 2011 but still plans to sell packaged software for a while, which makes sense given how much of the world has weak to nil internet connectivity. “Unlike Adobe, we think people’s shift from packaged software to subscription services will take time,” Microsoft told Wired.

The largest cloud storage provider, Amazon Web Services, reported $2.41 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter last year, or more than $9.6 billion in annualized sales—and that’s after the $10-billion-dollar company Dropbox ported off Amazon to build its own server farms in Q3.

Dropbox calls each of its storage machines a Diskotech. “The thing we care about the most is the disk,” its chief engineer told Wired. “That’s where all the bytes are.” 

Measuring only one-and-half-feet by three-and-half-feet by six inches, each Diskotech box holds as much as a petabyte of data, or a million gigabytes. Fifty of these machines could store everything human beings have ever written. Maybe even all the cute kitten videos on YouTube (“Maru gets into a box” – “大きな箱とねこ” – 8.1 million views).

At one point in 2015, when it was moving from Amazon to its own 40 acres and a mule, Dropbox was installing forty to fifty racks of hardware a day, each rack holding about eight individual machines. That installation rate continued for nearly six months. They surpassed Peak Kitten in the first month.

We have had the trauma of a terabyte data fail. It is not pretty. It means we now have to have 2 or 3 terabyte safety redundancies. If you go to DVD you can become dependent on legacy hardware (DVD readers and burners), calling up recollections of floppies, cassettes, optical readers, etc. we may still have in the attic but prefer not to think about. 

A flash drive is ephemeral – how many years will it hold its charge without any degradation or chance encounters with moisture, temperature change or magnetic fields?

We want to be able to access 20-year-old data using only the power of a Biolite Stove and no cloud. We can do that right now with an iPad and a portable HD. Can we do it still in 2017?

There may come a time when we just have to go our own way and de-cloud. At the moment we are struggling to remain amphibian, with a webbed foot in each world. Thanks for all the fish, but for now we intend to keep our paper-based bookkeeping and a sharpenable pencil.

Many years ago Amory Lovins’ Brittle Power described how lack of prudence and foresight had allowed city and regional planners to erect a monumental infrastructure of energy supply that keeps the lights on at night across North America but can be taken down by a tree branch falling on wires in a blizzard, or a pipe bomb in a pipeline.

The same kind of blind spot infects the planners of the Cyberverse. Mighty as they be, they are not Gods. To get to be in their club, you have to take the blue pill to believe the separate reality the Google-vets believe; the one with Space X missions to Mars and fusion-powered Teslas.

This represents an attitude that began with Google and has gradually spread across Silicon Valley. Google was so successful not just because it built a pretty good Internet search engine, but because it built the underlying technology needed to run that search engine—and so many other services—at an enormous scale. Facebook, which recruited countless ex-Googlers, did much the same. And so did Twitter and its ex-Googlers. And, now, so has Dropbox. To become a giant, you may have to stand on the shoulders of others. But once you become your own giant, you start to feel like you need to build a home that’s just right for you.

— Cade Metz, Wired 3-14-16


The problem, as we see it, is that the parallel reality field is eating away the brains of its wizards. Wormhole-brained, they keep edging farther out onto the limb of a system that is just one fallen-tree-branch or cyberattack away from ruin. Worse, they are forcing the rest of us to follow along and add our weight to that same weak limb.

Navigating the Blockchain: Drones, Droids and BitCoins

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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.

Your Robot Overlord Does Not Love You

Off the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on August 23, 2014
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

 

Your Robot Overlord Does Not Love You

 

The Three Laws of Robotics, a set of rules devised by science fiction author Isaac Asimov:

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 to 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, “I Robot”

 

In the process of preparing last week’s overheated screed, I came across an article that, after nearly 4000 words, consideration for my audience bade me defer to another day. That was the fact that Elon Musk, he of Tesla and Space-X, and widely regarded as one of the smartest guys in the room, had concluded that one of the gravest dangers to the continuation of the human race was not nuclear power so much as artificial intelligence.

Consider that for a moment. Or better yet, read the article in the original here.  In a couple of reported Tweets, Musk urged that we be “super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes,” and “Hope we’re not just the biological boot loader for digital super intelligence. Unfortunately that is increasingly probable.” Musk’s concern was spurred by a book by Nick Bostrom of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute entitled  “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.” 

The book addresses the prospect of an artificial superintelligence that could feasibly be created in the next few decades. According to theorists, once the AIis able to make itself smarter, it would quickly surpass human intelligence.

What would happen next? The consequences of such a radical development are inherently difficult to predict. But that hasn’t stopped philosophers, futurists, scientists and fiction writers from thinking very hard about some of the possible outcomes. The results of their thought experiments sound like science fiction—and maybe that’s exactly what Elon Musk is afraid of.

So what are some of these thought experiments? Bostrom says,

“We cannot blithely assume the super intelligence will necessarily share any of the final value stereotypically associated with wisdom and intellectual development in humans – scientific curiosity, benevolent concern for others, spiritual enlightenment and contemplation, renunciation of material acquisitiveness, a taste for refined culture for the simple pleasures of life, humility and selflessness, and so forth.”

Your mileage may vary, but from Gaza to Ferguson, we find these so-called human values already lacking in much of what passes for humanity. What worries Musk and his oracles are the unintended consequences of building artificial intelligence detached from ordinary human ethics. Future AI might find more value in computing the decimals of pi or insuring its own survival than solving human problems in ways that we might recognize as helpful.

Put another way by AI theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute:

“The AI does not love you, nor does it hate you, but you are made of atoms it can use for something else.”

Without recapitulating the entire article, its point is that it is difficult for programmers to anticipate the instructions necessary to program the ethical dimension and problem solving capability to safeguard human life. On the other hand, we find that in other parts of our military-industrial complex, our tax dollars are already working overtime to create artificial creatures whose purpose is ostensibly benign, but the implications of which are terrifyingly apparent to anyone who has seen Terminator movies.

In a breezy article on Geek Pride entitled, “5 Apocalypses You Are Probably Not Ready For” the authors consider not only technology that enables one monkey to control the actions of another monkey by simply thinking, but also a device they call, “Human Powered, Googlezon Big Spider DroneBotcalypse.”

Now, a robot that can’t be knocked over is terrifying enough. It can also climb stairs and is allegedly powered by your hopes and dreams. Why google are doing this is anyone’s guess, but we can only be lead to assume that it is to take over the world.

“Well,” you say “It’s not like they’re trying to watch our every move or anything!” Well…

Google is watching you. And it likes what it sees. You been working out?

So we have a company that watches everything you do online, records video of you when you’re offline and robots that can walk up the stairs. The only way we can hide is the removal of stairs, and living in treehouses.

Wrong.

Enter delivery giants Amazon and their patented new delivery system: drones.

Yup.

The drones have been initially designed to eliminate the day long waiting period for Amazon deliveries, shortening the time to a possibility of just 30 mins. Currently the plan is to have them manned remotely by human pilots. so we’re safe, for now. The main problem is what is known in the drone world as “SWaP — size, weight and power. This is essentially a physics problem: The larger your payload, the more lift you need. The more lift you need, the larger your battery has to be, which further adds to the weight, which adds to the power requirements, and so on” (Washington Post, 2013).

Essentially what this boils down to is a matter of time and money before drones can carry a bigger payload, such as a 500lbs Big Dog robot. This may seem a long way off, but all Amazon probably needs is a massive cash-injection for the advances to be put into effect. Cash the likes of which Google might have.

I give you  Googlezon, probable merger of the late 2020s and new owners of the world.

The motorized bison is a creature called “Big Dog” currently developed by Boston Dynamics, under a DARPA grant generously provided by you and me.  The ostensible purpose is search, rescue and supply, but…

BigDog is a rough-terrain robot that walks, runs, climbs and carries heavy loads. BigDog is powered by an engine that drives a hydraulic actuation system. BigDog has four legs that are articulated like an animal’s, with compliant elements to absorb shock and recycle energy from one step to the next. BigDog is the size of a large dog or small mule; about 3 feet long, 2.5 feet tall and weighs 240 lbs.

BigDog’s on-board computer controls locomotion, processes sensors and handles communications with the user. BigDog’s control system keeps it balanced, manages locomotion on a wide variety of terrains and does navigation. Sensors for locomotion include joint position, joint force, ground contact, ground load, a gyroscope, LIDAR and a stereo vision system. Other sensors focus on the internal state of BigDog, monitoring the hydraulic pressure, oil temperature, engine functions, battery charge and others.

BigDog runs at 4 mph, climbs slopes up to 35 degrees, walks across rubble, climbs muddy hiking trails, walks in snow and water, and carries 340 lb load.

Development of the original BigDog robot was funded by DARPA. Work to add a manipulator and do dynamic manipulation was funded by the Army Research Laboratory’s RCTA program.

And the news keeps getting worse.  Rather than embrace the high ground of “robot morality” imagined by Asimov, we find that the Pentagon is in early days of raising a robot army.  The justification is that ostensibly the military is rapidly creating weapons systems that will need to make moral decisions. Current military regs prohibit armed systems that are fully autonomous. Yet the increasing sophistication of military technology demands greater and greater autonomy, and where lives are at stake, machines capable of weighing moral factors. What could possibly go wrong?

The U.S. military is trying to develop and deploy a real life terminator. A research agency associated with the Pentagon has unveiled pictures of a robot that looks and walks like a man.

The ATLAS robot is being developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and a Massachusetts company called Boston Dynamics. DARPA, known as “the Pentagon’s weird science agency,” is the organization that is stated to have invented the internet. DARPA now has an intensive effort to create robots such as ATLAS underway at their facilities, and a new video reveals some of the latest developments.

DARPA has told the press that ATLAS is designed to enter disaster areas such as places contaminated by radiation or toxic chemicals and provide relief. Yet it would also function perfectly on the battlefield.

David Swanson imagines a brave new world of Pentagon robotics:

The Pentagon has hired a bunch of philosophy professors from leading U.S. universities to tell them how to make robots murder people morally and ethically.

Of course, this conflicts with [Asimov’s]  first law above. A robot designed to kill human beings is designed to violate the first law.

The whole project even more fundamentally violates the second law. The Pentagon is designing robots to obey orders precisely when they violate the first law, and to always obey orders without any exception. That’s the advantage of using a robot. The advantage is not in risking the well-being of a robot instead of a soldier. The Pentagon doesn’t care about that, except in certain situations in which too many deaths of its own humans create political difficulties. And there are just as many situations in which there are political advantages for the Pentagon in losing its own human lives: “The sacrifice of American lives is a crucial step in the ritual of commitment,” wrote William P. Bundy of the CIA, an advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. A moral being would disobey the orders these robots are being designed to carry-out, and — by being robots — to carry out without any question of refusal. Only a U.S. philosophy professor could imagine applying a varnish of “morality” to this project.

The Third Law should be a warning to us. Having tossed aside Laws one and two, what limitations are left to be applied should Law three be implemented? Assume the Pentagon designs its robots to protect their own existence, except when . . . what?

Now Big Dog has a buddy to take him for a walk. And in terms of reaction and tone,  at least to my taste, these guys have it about right:
No, it’s not a souped-up version of Robby the Robot — it’s ATLAS, DARPA’s latest attempt at creating a humanoid robot. Unlike the super-realistic Petman, which was designed to test chemical protection clothing, this 330-pound monster is meant to assist in emergency situations. Riiiight...

We’ve seen a proto-version of ATLAS before, but this updated unit can perform a host of new tricks, like walking through rugged terrain and climb using its hands as feet. It has 28 hydraulically actuated degrees of freedom, and of course, two hands, arms, legs, feet, and a torso with some kind of fancy-ass monitor on it that probably goes “ping!” every once in a while.

Hmmm, by “tools” I wonder if they mean “machine gun.”

No one who watched some of the best legal minds of a generation labor for the Bush administration to create legal justification for torture should be surprised that the Pentagon can hire ethicists and philosophers to determine under what circumstances a robot may commit murder.  Paging Dr. Mengele…

Here are the three laws David Swanson posits will replace Asimov’s:

1. A Pentagon robot must kill and injure human beings as ordered.
2. A Pentagon robot must obey all orders, except where such orders result from human weakness and conflict with the mission to kill and injure.
3. A Pentagon robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Behaving in much the same manner as some of our all-too-human military today, to say nothing of SWAT-gear hungry cops, those Barney Fifes in military drag making up for their dateless high school weekends and various manhood inadequacies by pointing loaded rifles at unarmed civilians to express their inchoate rage.

As anyone not living in a cave knows full well, the foreign-policy of this country, as conducted by the neocons who staged a silent coup to control it  (and control it yet despite the nominal change in political administration), operates in a conscience free zone. So perhaps Elon Musk is correct to be worried about artificial intelligence, or more precisely, the lack of ethics that guides its technological development. Our culture has technology in spades. What it lacks is a moral dimension other than materialism and  the quest to power to inform its use.

Thus no one should be surprised by developments like these technological fruits, or their subornation to the worst uses imaginable.  In a manner analogous to that in MRAPS, SWAT equipment, LRADs and other excess military equipment helpfully provisioned by the Defense Logistics Agency and transferred to local cops, so too are the military populace suppression techniques. Thus the police becomes an armed militia whose sole purpose is to protect the property of the .1% and to keep the rabble in line, as we have seen repeated from Oakland to ferguson to New York City.

Clearly Big Dog and Atlas are just two projects in the robot pipeline,  and these are the most visible and showy. For every ostensible “humanitarian use,” there are dozens of less humanitarian uses that don’t make the press releases.

What about the less sexy projects, the smart computers that control systems, that will make decisions  based on whatever parameters are fed into it by the best hired “ethicists and philosophers” that Pentagon money can buy?  Perhaps that’s what’s keeping Elon Musk up at night. What could be next: Machine-animal hybrids?

 

Or, other the other hand, nothing to worry about, citizen. Pass the Doritos.

***

Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary, and every day remarks at his undeserved good fortune at having such a redoubtable woman in his life.

 

 

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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