Artificial Intelligence.

**This is a re-write of an amazing post that I lost through wordpress being a jerk. It may or may not be as amazing as the post I lost. Just so you know.**

I’m pretty much convinced that we have given our computing devices artificial intelligence without meaning to. It’s some kind of terrific when you work on a laptop and can move around with it to work, and being able to work on my back porch on a sunny Spring day is a pleasure indeed. Sometimes I even take my laptop (a 17″ MacBook Pro, if you didn’t already know. Heh) up to my bedroom to play games or read news before I go to bed. All in all, I’m happy with the situation. Except for when the router decides to not flex it’s wireless muscles to reliably get to me and my MacBook when we’re outside. That’s some foreshadowing for you – you wouldn’t think that a router could DECIDE anything, nor does it have actual muscles, because if either of these things were true, it would be organic and sentient. One hallmark of sentience is free will and making choices based on desires, needs, etc. Anyway, you would think that if on Friday at 7pm, I had a signal on my back porch, I could expect the same on Monday at 7pm.

NOT SO!

Let’s say, for example, that it’s Tuesday morning (we all know that Tuesday is the suckiest days of the week) and you’re going to print something in your office. You assume that the printer is going to do for you what it was designed to reliably do for you, i.e. PRINT STUFF on demand. Off you go to the printer, and…not so fast, buckaroo! The printer doesn’t work for you, and immediately, you personify the printer and say something along the lines of, “Printer, what is happening in your life that you have decided to not work for me? Is it something we can talk about so that we can get you working for me again?”. Obviously, I am assuming that you have resolved any human error or PC LOAD LETTER type issues, and as such, the most plausible explanation is that some kind of artificial intelligence has been created in your device without your knowledge, or perhaps without even the designers meaning to do it. The printer doesn’t work for you, but it works for Sandy down the hall, and nothing new has happened since you used it last night. Ockham’s Razor, people!

This has all come from the fact that I don’t reliably have a wireless signal on my back porch, when nothing has changed from one day to the next, and how is it possible that the signal can go through the floor to get to me in bedroom, but not to the back porch. I don’t go through any walls to get to my back porch. My router has a personality, and yesterday, it was set on FROSTY BITCH.

So, what about the consequences of us having inadvertently created AI in our computing devices? Some people, and I forgot where I read it, but some people have started to think about such notions as what if robots really did take on human characteristics and behaviours? Oh, snap! I remembered where! The folks at How Stuff Works have thought about robots marrying here. Is “I, Robot” destined to become our manual for living with such devices? Isaac Asimov postulated Three Laws of Robotics, which the nice people at Auburn University have put here. And just in case your computer decides to be a frosty bitch and won’t load links, the Three Laws of Robotics are:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Fair enough, right? Well, what exactly does “harm” mean? Does it mean physical harm or any other kind of harm, like, for example, our frosty bitch of a printer that won’t work – what if the thing you’re trying to print is essential for your big meeting and you’ll get fired if it doesn’t print RIGHT NOW? Also, when laws are made, they have to be enforced – this is, essentially, the Rule of Law. Is there some kind of Robot Police Force that is going to come to your rescue when the printer doesn’t work? Finally, who tells the device what the rules are? Do they learn from their owners or from inputs on the assembly line? I’m sure you are all off to tell your computers and printers and fax machines (fax machines?) and handhelds and ipods what the Three Laws are and they’d better pay attention OR ELSE!

Oh, video time! Remember before when I said PC LOAD LETTER? That got me thinking of this clip from Office Space. Enjoy!

UPDATE: Hey, remember the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill? Yeah, BP doesn’t want you to. But we’re smarter than them and will never forget. Anyhoo, people have been going around slamming Ex-VP Cheney, because Halliburton is the company that is, apparently, responsible for the part that didn’t work on the rig. I think it’s a bit disingenuous to go after Cheney, because he hasn’t been an officer of Halliburton for a while now, and there are plenty of other villains to go around. Also, if you want to blame Cheney, blame him for energy industry regulation problems. He’s largely the guy who directed the de-regulation of that industry in the first GW Bush administration. I know that’s is way easier to freak people out with OMGCHENEYHALLIBURTONAPOCALYPSE, but really, it’s more about regulation – which, as a liberal, I’m inclined to want to explain, but try to explain regulation to people who like 10 second sound bites to educate themselves about issues. This is why liberals suck at communications.

But I digress. The blame game has officially begun. BP is blaming Halliburton for faulty parts, and Halliburton is blaming Transocean (the guys who came up with the goofy scheme to plug the hole with, basically, duct tape and some concrete), who is, in turn, blaming BP. There’s lots of blame to go around, guys, so let’s follow this one and see who comes out of it in the end. Also, BP’s stock, being traded on my Personal Integrity Index, has been downgraded to a penny/junk stock. Sigh.

Stuff That Would Be Fantastic If It Happened (I).

Do you ever think about how fantastic it would be if certain technology was developed or if the world was ruled by women or if you won the Cash for Life lottery? I do. Constantly.

I have a funny feeling that this is going to be one of a suite of posts on stuff that would be really great if it happened. Life is tough, and I think most people really wish that it would be fantastic if a few things happened to make it easier. This is going to have a list-y feel to it, but bear with me – I love lists. Mostly because lists, to me, are well-organized, coherent thoughts that help you get stuff done. Anyway, let’s move on.

Start suspending disbelief in 3…2…1…NOW!

Teleportation
Have you ever seen an episode of “Star Trek”? If yes, you know what I’m talking about and likely, I need to go no further because we all know how awesome teleportation for the masses would be. If you haven’t, they have this technology (in the future) that moves people over distance almost instantaneously by splitting the traveler into a gazillion little pieces, or dematerializing, and putting him back together into his whole person, or re-materializing, on the other end, at his destination. Now, there are a million existential, not to mention physics and light-speed travel, issues with teleportation. But dream with me for a moment, because that’s what this whole post is about. A traveler would jump into a teleport machine, choose a place to go, press some buttons, and go forth to be de-materialized and re-materialized at the destination of their choice.

In my future world, everyone has a teleportation machine in their house, and such machines would exist all over the world. This would mean the death of the airline industry but the economy would make up for it in tourist spending because I would go out for dinner in New York City or Rio De Janeiro or at a Tuscan farmhouse every night of my life. Also, imagine how teleportation would help with development. I would spend a weekend a month building houses in Bangladesh or irrigation trenches in Zambia. It’s the cost of travel that often keeps people from doing these kinds of philanthropic activities and with that barrier removed, imagine what would get done. Also imagine how much better we would all understand each other. I’m assuming we would need a passport or some kind of tracking to make sure immigration didn’t get out of control but imagine how easy it would be to educate those who don’t have access to the level of education we have. Imagine how easy it would be to get the best medical treatments. Imagine how easy it would be to transfer knowledge. Also, we wouldn’t need cars anymore because we would all just teleport to where we were going – work, school, grocery shopping. Is teleportation actually possible? Well, maybe. This is a good, relatively layman’s terms article that answers some questions, and asks others. Also, here’s a video about the science of teleporters from a real live professor! The video quality isn’t fantastic but it’s fun anyway:

Remembering History
You know what would be fantastic? If public policy and decisions were made with history in mind. I’m a Political Science grad, and one of my best friends is a History grad. We talk about the mix of politics and history all the time, and most of the time, it’s pretty clear that a decision is bad because someone hasn’t remembered history. History shows patterns of events and their long-term results and we should be paying more attention to the lessons of history. For example, how many times do we have to see that cutting taxes for the rich and restraining government spending doesn’t result in growing economies? How many times do we have to see that religious fanaticism results in war and violence – two things that most religions aren’t big fans of? How many times does it have to be shown that human learning and enlightenment result in progress like healthier, happier, wealthier people?

I had a discussion with said friend the other day about the European Union. After WWII, France and Germany in particular realized their warring history and made historic decisions to band together in economic cooperation in order to make it WAY harder to consider going to war against each other in the future. Obviously, this is a simplified view, but for all intents and purposes, countries that are bound in economic and social cooperation are likely not going to screw it up. This wasn’t a new idea – people and states have done this over the many millenia to usher in new periods of peace and prosperity. History comes back to both help and haunt. There’s much I want to say about this but I would rather see what you all have to say in comments instead of shoving my own ideology down your throats.

Guaranteed Elevators
I’m a little scared of elevators so I wish that they had more back-up systems than they currently have and were absolutely guaranteed to get me to the 10th floor without fear. Elevators are ubiquitous in this life, and so I wish I could throw that little phobia overboard. Scientists, particularly at CalTech, are researching a SPACE elevator. SCARY!!! I will NOT be going up in that elevator.

Extreme Elevation!

That’s all I’ve got for now. What do you think would be fantastic if it happened?