Are machines that learn for themselves the stuff of nightmares or a vision of a wonderful utopian future?
The answer, of course, is neither.
We all know that technology is neutral, even though we forget a lot of the time. But there is that niggling doubt. What if they broke through the barrier and became sentient and intelligent?
It’s possible, but probably a long way off.
Artificial Intelligence and robots are hot topics for Science Fiction at the moment and I’m one of those who believe we should use fiction to help us imagine the future so we can be better prepared for it. Good or bad.
The more of us that have a basic understanding of how the tech works the richer the debate about how it’s used will be, so I was pleased to find some fun stuff from Google that starts to demystify machine learning.
Here’s an AI experiment that tests a neural network to see if it can guess what you’re sketching.
I’m rubbish at drawing but it guessed 2 out of my 5 doodles and as the designers say, “The more you play with it, the more it will learn.”
Christopher’s neck was bruised where they’d held him down while forcibly removing his arms and legs. He’d fought them hard, but it had been pointless; here he was, dumped by the side of the road in an old damp car seat, helpless and homeless.
Tears were rolling down his face and he could do nothing about them.
How could it have come to this? Less than a year ago he’d taken an affordable loan from a company that owned massive driverless trucks. He’d replaced his arms and legs with prosthetics to become a highly paid and highly sought after new-breed trucker with enough strength to load and unload the huge cargos.
Now look at him. Useless. Slumped on a dirty seat in the gutter with the small begging bowl the bailiffs had graciously left in front of him.
A group of people approached and his hopes rose. As they got close he called out. ‘Please. Help me.’
Prosthetic envy. That was the theme of the Virtual Futures Salon at the end of last month.
Three out of four panellists had prosthetic limbs and were keen to talk openly about what that meant for them. One of them was James A.H. Young who you may have seen on the BBC recently.
They told their stories, pondered and discussed what had led to them having prosthetics, how good their limbs actually are and what the general public’s reaction is like.
Surprisingly, they had stories of people exlaiming how ‘cool’ the prosthetics are and asking how they could get one. To which, of course, there’s a reply which includes, ‘you’ll have to cut a limb off first.’
Luke Robert Mason introduced the evening, referring to Limbo ’90, which is a book I read as part of my research for the evening’s story, Loans for Limbs. It’s a 1950 book by Bernard Wolfe, billed as being the first book to “project the present-day concept known as ‘cybernetics’ to its logical and terrifying conclusion.” It’s well worth a read.
Here’s me reading Loans for Limbs for the first time in public.
Afterwards, some of the audience asked me how to get a written copy; if you join my mailing list before 17 June you’ll get it in the June email a few days later.