Scientists Worry About Machines Smarter Than Us. Yawn…

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NOTE: forgive my overlap with Jazz. I can only hope it gets chalked up to great blogging minds thinking alike…

Says the NYTimes:

Impressed and alarmed by advances in artificial intelligence, a group of computer scientists is debating whether there should be limits on research that might lead to loss of human control over computer-based systems that carry a growing share of society’s workload, from waging war to chatting with customers on the phone.

Their concern is that further advances could create profound social disruptions and even have dangerous consequences.

As examples, the scientists pointed to a number of technologies as diverse as experimental medical systems that interact with patients to simulate empathy, and computer worms and viruses that defy extermination and could thus be said to have reached a “cockroach” stage of machine intelligence.

Well, yes and yes. But, hey, that’s life.

I’m somewhat Kurzweilian on the topic; more The Age of Spiritual Machines than The Singularity is Near. (I couldn’t even make it through the latter.)

More from the Times:

The researchers also discussed possible threats to human jobs, like self-driving cars, software-based personal assistants and service robots in the home. Just last month, a service robot developed by Willow Garage in Silicon Valley proved it could navigate the real world.

Those are examples of the robots I want!

The smart machines I’d point to as indelibly leading us down the robot road are our war machines. (See, for example, here and here.) The scientists mention them only in passing.

Our machines are already smarter than us or, rather, we are completely dependent on them to do much of our computation for us. And I am completely skeptical of comments like this:

“Something new has taken place in the past five to eight years,” Dr. Horvitz said. “Technologists are replacing religion, and their ideas are resonating in some ways with the same idea of the Rapture.”

More pervasive, I think, is fear-filled skepticism of technology that makes it out to be the devil. Let’s romp through some fun recent robot examples:

Flesh-eating robot is really vegetarian:

[A]fter a string of headlines that labelled the machine a “corpse eater” and “creepy”, the robot’s creators have gone on a PR offensive to extinguish the rumour that their invention will feed on human or animal flesh.

The machine’s inventors say that the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot – known as Eatr for short – does indeed power its “biomass engine” by digesting organic material, but that it is not intended to chomp its way through battlefields of fallen soldiers.

More on the fleshy vegetarian from Wired.

Georgia Institute of Technology Robotics engineer Ronald Arkin on prototype software that he says could give army robots a built-in “guilt system,” potentially making them better than human soldiers at avoiding civilian casualties:

Right now, we are looking at designing systems that can comply with internationally prescribed laws of war and our own codes of conduct and rules of engagement. We’ve decided it is important to embed in these systems with the moral emotion of guilt. We use this as a means of downgrading the robots’ ability to engage targets if it is acting in ways which exceed the predicted battle damage in certain circumstances.

Progress of a sort, I guess.

Andrew Sullivan points us to Robot Brides:

[The] Japanese have begun to replace runway models with soulless machines… as opposed to soulless bulemics that survive on cocaine alone. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, I suppose.

Also via Andrew, from an anti-gay marriage rally last spring in Raleigh, North Carolina, David Gibbs III, the Christian fundamentalist lawyer who fought to keep Terry Schiavo on life support in 2005:

(Gibbs) told rally participants gay marriage would “open the door to unusual marriage in North Carolina.

“Why not polygamy, or three or four spouses?” Gibbs asked. “Maybe people will want to marry their pets or robots.”

Not this one. But maybe one of these.

Dominic Holden sees grocery store check-out robots taking away jobs. I assume he’s as concerned that robots do 90 percent of the welding work on Priuses in Japan. There Ramen robots will make your soup. Well, not really:

Technically the robot doesn’t make the noodles, instead assembling the bowl, including the customized flavor options. Customers place orders on a computer, customizing aspects such as the levels of soy sauce and salt, and richness of the soup. Shop owner Yoshihara Uchida says there are 40 million different flavor permutations.

Here a Carnegie Mellon Robot Snake with its own website.

Here CNet finds a robot biker dude used by Castrol, a maker of motorbike engine oils, to test its products’ performance.

And finally, from CollegeHumor, a 1985 Nintendo Robot — R.O.B., a Robotic Operating Buddy — a delux option that played the game with you: