Rise of the machines

Hal 9000 of the movie 2001: a space odyssey., The prototype of the evil computer that starts a rise of the machines against humans

The rise of the machines is a fear with ancestral roots, if we mean, by extension, the rebellion against your own creator. Ancient Greeks developed this topic with the myth of Prometheus and Zeus‘ mistrust towards humans, dangerous because in constant evolution.

Mary Shelley, at the beginning of XIX century, published Frankenstein: or the modern Prometheus. Technology wasn’t that advanced, but her visionary construction of the monster anticipates the complexity of androids, brain aside. The intelligence of dr. Frankenstein creature was his weakness, not like Hal 9000, prototype of the evil computer which wants to get rid of its human owners. It’s a classic of sci-fi, whether it’s a masterpiece like 2001: A Space Odyssey or a B-movie (or book).

It’s not a mystery that technological progress has been exponential, concentrated in the last 50 or 60 years, especially the latest decade, out hundreds of thousands years of human presence on the planet. In reality, artificial intelligence started with good intentions, to support human imperfection. At the dawn of this new era, in 1999, the Israeli computer science professor Amnon Shashua invented Mobileye, an additional eye that made cars recognise pedestrian, to avoid accidents, to make an example.

The most astonishing aspect of a.i. is its capacity of self-learning, to improve by itself just with practice. Like a baby who comprehends more and more, first with teaching and then with direct experience. Technical steps are almost the same. Phase one is supervised by human engineers, phase two is unsupervised and then there is a reinforcement learning, the refining. The relationship humans-god shifts into machines-humans, the creator starts the sparkle and civilization goes on by itself, until there is no more need of deity.

Mobileye, one of the first device based on a.i.

So, a mechanism like Mobileye was first trained to recognise a human face from many perspectives. This way its database is increased to avoid the minimum mistake. The same with Google Translator, which made giant steps in few years, also thanks to reports by people in the flesh. Then a.i. is able to teach directly to the other similar devices, passing on the luggage of tradition and knowledge, just like we do. The first computer that challenged Garry Kasparov in the game of chess in 1996 lost 4-2, a year later turned it down.

A rise of the machines is already in place, but it’s peaceful. Many jobs don’t need or won’t need anymore the human factor. It’s an issue old as the Industrial Revolution, when workers feared for their own obsolete employement because of this brand new instruments. Pilots, surgeons, financial advisors, can start getting scared. Even journalists, as writing can be automated. Algorithms win 7-1 on humans for accuracy and costs. We can discuss quality, asking if Pulitzer prize will ever go to a robot.

Kasparov vs Deep Blue in an epic chess game

Maybe. The publishing of Panama Papers, 11 million documents on tax evasion committed by more than 200 thousand companies would have been impossible with the traditional ways of research. At the New York Times the job offers concern journalists expert of computer engineering, datas and statistics. News aggregators such as Flipboard or Ntiss use preferences based on historics for a personalized selection, with strength and weaknesses. They make us save time, but they also filter and eliminate those articles which we wouldn’t imagine fascinating, that we would casually find turning the pages of a newspaper. So, they reduce our field of interest.

Coexistence with computers and robots will change more our lives in the future. We will be unburdened of a lot of heavy tasks, maybe even replaced in sports, which is not a likely scenary both for athletes and fans. It’s all about find a balance and a way to pay for a life that could become lighter and more satisfying. Rise of the machines is still not that realistic, although their learning is fast and with less need of human intervention. At least their takeover won’t need a bloodbath.


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