Sunday, 19 July 2009

Machine takeover critics


Hi, I'm Tim Tyler and this is a video about critics of the machine takeover.

Robot experts seem fairly uniformly critical of the idea that machines are likely to take over the world.

One of the few who takes this idea seriously is Hans Moravec - now one of the fathers of the field.

In some respects, this is understandable. Robot takeover scenarios are likely to be unpopular with humans who have been exposed to Hollywood's depictions of warfare between humans and robots. So, robot builders naturally want to reassure people that these kinds of scenarios are unlikely - to help ensure that they continue to receive funding - and so that the robot industry does not fall into disrepute.

I don't mean to pick on Rodney Brookes, since he is one among many, but here is his view on the topic:

[Rodney Brookes footage]

Rodney discusses what he calls "the standard scenario" in which the machines want to take over - which he apparently takes from Hollywood. Unfortunately, Hollywood's scenarios are intended for dramatic purposes, not realism.

He criticises two scenarios - the accidental construction of a "bad robot" - and deliberate engineering of "bad robots". However, these are not the only possible scenarios, nor the most likely ones, as I will explain in a moment.

Another critic is Daniel Wilson - author of a humorous parody of Hollywood's robot portrayals.

Here's Daniel on the subject:

[Daniel Wilson footage]

The idea that a robot takeover is unlikely seems to be standard fare in the robotics community.

Unfortuntely, the takeover criticisms they present seem rather misguided to me.

I agree with the critics that an "accidental" robot uprising is unlikley. The scale of the mistake humans would have to make to lose control in that way is enormous.

The issue with robots is that they seem likely to ultimately be technologically more advanced than existing evolved organisms are.

Daniel makes the point that robots are too feeble to be threatening today.

[Daniel Wilson footage]

However, the situation where robots are feeble is not going to last forever. Robot capabilities will eventually equal and then surpass those of humans.

Advanced technology has always been used to concentrate wealth, and to prevent the poor reclaiming it. We saw the first millionaire in 1716, the first billionaire in 1916 - and the first trillionaire is expected soon. When robots are well developed, running a company which is 99% robots is likely to be the best way to be profitable. However, if everyone does that, most of the available resources will be tied up in robots. Society will consist mostly of robots.

Unrestrained economic competition seems likely to lead directly to robots doing all the work, and most humans being redundant. Those figures represent enormous and growing inequalities within society. Those in charge of robot armies responsible for the world's productivity are likely to be unimpressed by mountains of unemployed humans voting to tax them heavily. They will seek out countries that allow them to operate without such constraints - or take other measures to free themselves from parasitism by the majority. A world of redundant humans who lead a parasitic existence on the rest of society appears likely to be rather unstable.

The planet has always been resource-limited. Malthusian competion for resources may well lead to conflict in the future as the planet gradually fills up. Whatever form the competition takes, the combatants are both likely to be at the head of robot armies, which could be used if necessary. So, future conflicts involving robots seem possible.

If you look at the situation from the point of view of heritable information, that wants to live inside computers. It is there it has the best chance of combining with other useful inventions, and spreading rapidly. There has been an enormous migration of information into computers - including the genomes of many exisiting organisms. In the future, artefacts will not only have the best transmission fidelity, the best recombination and beneficial mutation facilities - but also the best sensors, actuators and processing elements. That is going to be where the action is.

The other robot takeover scenario is a relatively peaceful one. In the future, there will be enormous pressure to ditch our crappy mortal bodies, and adopt gleaming robot ones that can be replaced like a suit of clothing. Our minds will be under enormous pressure to migrate into a medium where they can be better backed up and debugged. Our genes will want to be able to utilise the latest technology too.

In meme-dominated societies, people naturally reduce their breeding rate. If you look at Japan, people are dying faster than they are being born. Essentially, people have their bodies and brains hijacked by memes, which then use them for their own ends.

So, it may not be necessary for people to be killed, or even for them to have their reproductive rate deliberately constrained. Humans might well die-out naturally in a meme-rich world.

Machine takeover critics seem to concentrate on near-future catastrophic disaster scenarios. I agree that these are not realistic.

However, they neglect longer-term scenarios - where machines takeover not because they get into a battle with the humans, but rather because humans love them so much, and want more and more of them. These scenarios are a bit further into the future - but because of the exponential character of evolutionary progress, they are still not that far off.

I think consideration of these scenario effectively reverses the conclusion. How could so many robot experts be wrong about the significance of their own field? I think it is because they constantly face questions from people about Hollywood-inspired scenarios - and these are so wrong that they need correcting. Also, there is the concern that painting robot takeover scenarios as plausible would result in robots being less popular - and most robot builders want to promote robots. Asserting that they are likely to take over the planet might seem counter-productive to this cause.

So, in my view Hans Moravec is right about this issue, and most other robot enthusiasts seriously need to reconsider their position.


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