AI – Nirvana or Apocalypse (for Virginia)?

Smells like tech spirit – Artificial Intelligence may be on its way to becoming the buzziest buzz-term in the buzzword laden history of the buzz-o-sphere.  No prior trend has engendered the societal debate that AI has sparked.  Scientistsbillionairespoliticianspoetspriestsbutchersbakers and candlestick makers have all gotten into the game.  Ok, the candlestick maker reference was hogwash but give that industry time … something will come up.  Everybody has an opinion and the opinions are “all over the map”.  Artificial intelligence will either be the recreation of Eden on Earth (without the troublesome snakes and apples) or the kind of zombie apocalypse that gives zombies nightmares.  Either way. it seems clear that AI will have a profound effect on how we live, work and play in Virginia.

“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”   Concerns about computers getting too big for their britches go back a long way.  Generation after generation had their fears of computer overlords generally mucking things up.  The average American Baby Boomer first learned the perils of artificial intelligence in 1968 from HAL of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame.  Thirty three years later everybody laughed when 2001 came and went without any psychotic computers in evidence (give or take the Apple Newton).  But here we are 17 years later and there are some very serious people with some very serious concerns.  Why did concerns about AI go from the realm of entertainment to a serious debate about the start of nirvana vs the end of mankind?

The winter of their discontent.  AI has gone through a series of boom and bust cycles over the decades from the hype of the 1970s and 80s to the last of the so-called AI winters from about 1990 through 2011.  In some ways the public’s fascination with AI elevated the highs and made the lows all that much lower.  In 1981 Japan’s MITI funded the Fifth Generation Computer Systems project with $850M.  The ambitious program would build a new generation of computers designed for AI along with the AI software needed to make the dream come true.  An impressive list of goals was drawn up.  Ten years later the goals had not been met.  Twenty, even thirty years later many of the goals from 1981 were still elusive.  Then, in 2011, came one of those bizarre occurrences that sort of change everything.

Your answer must be in the form of a question.  In January 2011 IBM’s AI platform, named Watson, played Jeopardy! against the two best human Jeopardy! players in history and beat them soundly.  The AI winter was over.  In reality, AI research had been going on at IBM and elsewhere during the so-called AI winter but the Jeopardy! contest reawakened the public’s fascination with AI.  AI research was often called something other than AI during the AI winter because of the stigma AI had developed.  Kind of like the way liberals now call themselves progressives.  There were neural networks, expert systems, knowledge engineering, etc.  However, it was AI.  The Watson Jeopardy! match put AI back in the public’s imagination and it’s been “off to the races” ever since.

The Last Question.  Google followed IBM with a more impressive AI demonstration.  In 2016, using its Deep Mind AI platform, Google defeated the reigning human Go master.  Go is a 3,000 year old Chinese board game that has been notoriously hard for AI platforms to successfully play due to the mind-boggling number of possible moves.  These advances, and many more, explain why the debate over AI and the future of mankind has reached such a fever pitch.  It appears that this time … AI is finally real.

Come out Virginia.  Don’t let ’em wait.  You backward states start much too late.  Ok, apologies to Billy Joel but Virginia has a long history of denying the present and ignoring the future.  In a world where Russian bots already stand accused of meddling in American elections Virginia needs a frank discussion regarding the escalating capabilities of automation and AI.  Will bots affect the 2019 Virginia elections?  How will automation impact Virginia’s economy?  Was it coincidence that Steve Haner’s by-line started appearing on BaconsRebellion about the same time that AI-powered bots began posting on social media?

— Don Rippert

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11 responses to “AI – Nirvana or Apocalypse (for Virginia)?

  1. Good commentary!

    One thing is for sure and that is AI – like every other technology that has come down the pike – is not going to go away and it threatens/promises to take away even more jobs on the low end and add them on the upper end – upping the requirement for even more education for “work”.

    We could quite easily end up with two distinct groups of humans – those who do have sufficient education to participate – and those who have fallen so far behind that they’re reporting to supervisor bots for work!

    And new phrases will surely enter our lexicon – as AI pushes more and more into the field of examining human behaviors… we’ll even have AI Psychiatrists and AI will look at human behaviors with regard to each other – like when driving cars so that autonomous cars don’t make the mistake of assuming that humans drive cars – logically.

    Police will use AI to determine who to stop and search – thus relieving themselves from being accused of “profiling”.. i.e. the robot “did it”!

    Amazon and Google will determine exactly what item you want to buy AND the price point that will get you to click “BUY”. (Maybe already!)

    AI may well revolutionize medicine and cancer research – and who knows – Climate analysis… and the skeptics will continue to sing ” You can’t believe those robots lying eyes”!!!!

    • Basic logic requires that the general intelligence AI that proves anthropomorphic climate change is caused by humans will have to exterminate all humans in an expeditious manner. By then I hope to be safely in cryonic hibernation wearing my I “heart” AI tee shirt and baseball cap ready to awaken as an ally of the robotic overlords.

      • Nothing in this current political world will more quickly lead to AI being accused of being an elite liberal conspiracy than if it confirms climate change. I guarantee it.

  2. I think I saw the Star Trek M5 episode before I was introduced to HAL 9000. But they were basically contemporaneous. I must be a bot, because those obnoxious bot-blocking puzzles always defeat me…..

    • Sometime before even 1968 I read Isaac Asimov’s short story, The Last Question. The story was published when Ray Kurzweil was only 8 years old but not only predicted the Singularity but gave it a specific date … May 21, 2061. I have instructed my children to awaken me from cryonic hibernation on that very day.

      Here is the Asimov story – worth a read but only if you read it all -

  3. C’mon, Steve, admit it. You’ve been dead for years.

    PS – always better to get them under right post.

  4. IBM’s Watson is impressive. But I won’t be really impressed with AI’s ability to do something practical until someone can use it to keep me from getting stuck in phone tree hell with just about every consumer-facing company I do business with. Now, that would be a killer app!

    • Funny you should mention phone trees. Being a fitness conscious nerd I listen to AI podcasts while I go running in the morning. This morning I heard about a company called Bowtie. As far as I can tell they are on the way to ending phone tree hell …

      I was actually thinking about the Bac-O-Bot … a digital assistant that allows anybody visiting our site to find out information about Virginia using plain English. Who is the state senator representing Harrisonburg? What is the population of Alta Vista? Which county had the greatest increase in the percentage of Hispanics in the population between 2000 and today?

  5. >>We could quite easily end up with two distinct groups of humans – those who do have sufficient education to participate – and those who have fallen so far behind that they’re reporting to supervisor bots for work!

    Actually, there will be three groups. Engineers, managers, and the Wreeks and Wrecks. But the latter won’t be reporting to anyone because they won’t need to. They’ll have everything they need.

    See Vonnegut, Kurt; Player Piano, 1952

    • The holy trilogy … Huxley, Orwell and Vonnegut. Yet even these three dystopian geniuses couldn’t imagine a world where Doublespeak is implemented not by governments but by corporations who present various “free” services only to take the users’ data so they can personalize the advertising of products nobody really needs or wants. I submit that only Dante or Poe was dark enough to have come up with that.

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