Tag Archives: AI

Would You Willingly Plug Yourself Into The Matrix? A Serious Question

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. This video is both a thought experiment and a deep dive into some of the concepts explored in the Matrix, both the original and The Matrix Resurrections. It explores the idea of creating virtual worlds that feel every bit as real as the real. It also touches on the larger implications of this technology while also asking under what circumstances we would willingly enter such a world.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, Jack's World, movies, Neuralink, YouTube

New Zealand Pushes For International Bans On Fully Autonomous Weapons (And Why Other Countries Should Follow Suit)

What are drones? – Drone Wars UK

Whenever I discuss or follow issues surrounding artificial intelligence, it’s not long before the topic of killer robots come up. That’s to be expected and not just because most of us have seen “Terminator” one too many times. However, it’s no laughing matter.

At this stage in our technological development, killer robots and autonomous weapons aren’t restricted to science fiction. They already exist in many respects. We just call them drones or unmanned combat aerial vehicles. These are real things that operate in real war zones. They have killed people, including innocent civilians.

They may not look like your typical T-101, but make no mistake. They’re every bit as deadly. They don’t need to hide within the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger. They can just flies thousands of feet over your head and kill from a distance. That’s a scary thought for anyone in a war zone, but you can take some comfort in that these machines still have human operators.

That could eventually change. As I’ve noted before, artificial intelligence is advancing to a point where it can match or exceed the skill of an ordinary human in specialized tasks. Even if we’re decades away form an AI that has the same cognitive capacity as an ordinary human, we already have AI systems that specialize in particular tasks, like chess.

It wouldn’t be that great a stretch to develop an advanced artificial intelligence that could specialize in flying combat drones without any human input. In principle, an artificial intelligence wouldn’t be nearly as prone to human error or hesitation if their human pilots were taken out of the equation.

However, that also raises some serious ethical, as well as strategic questions. If humans are out of the loop in operating these autonomous weapons systems, then what happens to how we conduct warfare? What does this mean for both sides of an armed conflict?

Ideally, an advanced AI will be better at making decisions to limit civilian casualties. That is likely the ultimate goal in researching these systems. The problem is we’re still a long way from that goal, so much so that one government in the world is already trying to establish a precedent.

Fittingly, it’s a government from an area that is not in any war zone, nor is it near one. New Zealand, a country not known for frequent warmongering, recently pushed for a worldwide ban on autonomous weapons systems. It’s a bold and ambitious effort, but one I believe we should take seriously.

Stuff: Government to push for international ban of autonomous weapons, or killer robots

The Government will push for an international ban on fully autonomous weapons, or killer robots, that use artificial intelligence to target and kill people without any human decision-making.

New Zealand has for decades advocated for disarmament in international forums, after declaring the country a nuclear-free zone in the 1980s. Autonomous weapons are seen as a new frontier in the arms race between major military powers.

Disarmament Minister Phil Twyford on Tuesday said the Government had decided to take a “tough and uncompromising” stance on autonomous weapons, and seek a ban of fully autonomous weapons on the international stage.

Regardless of how you feel about New Zealand’s policies or intentions, this is one rare instance where politics might have to inject itself into science. Like it or not, the pace of artificial intelligence is accelerating. Few agree on how much time it’ll take to reach human level AI, but nobody denies that it’s an advancing field.

At some point in the very near future, we’ll have AI systems specifically tailored to fly combat drones with the same proficiency as a skilled Air Force pilot. That does not require human level AI. It just requires AI that can handle the various tasks associated with operating these systems.

When that time comes, it will be tempting to take flawed humans out of the loop. That means militaries with these autonomous weapons systems won’t have to be as hesitant when it comes to deploying these systems.

We can safely assume this because there’s a big difference between pushing a button that fires a gun and ordering another human being to fire that same gun. Even if that other human is trained and obedient, they’re still human. They can still make mistakes. They can still hesitate.

For once, that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes, we need humans to hesitate in the midst of war. Were it not for hesitation, the Cuban Missile Crisis could’ve ended very differently.

If waging war is too easy for those with access to these systems, then more war will follow. More war means more death, destruction, and violence. Too much of that and lasting peace becomes much more difficult. The whole of 20th century history is proof enough of that.

Like nuclear weapons, autonomous weapons systems are a Pandora’s Box that cannot be closed once opened. We’ve already opened it partially thanks to drone warfare. For that reason, I think New Zealand has the right idea in terms of mitigating the potential danger.

Even if autonomous weapons systems become so advanced that they operate better than any human, we still need at least one human behind the decision making process. We still need a flesh-and-blood person to pull the trigger rather than entrusting that recourse to a machine.

We, as a species, simply cannot and should not walk this path with our technology. It’s not just about limiting the use of dangerous weapons. Once we start teaching these advanced AI’s to kill, then we won’t be able to unteach them. If they eventually become too good at it, then that does not bode well for humanity as a whole, regardless of which side they’re on in any war.

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Would You Willingly Plug Your Brain Into The Matrix?

The Matrix' Code Came From Sushi Recipes—but Which? | WIRED

What if there was a virtual environment that was so real and so lifelike that it was completely indistinguishable from the real world?

What if you had an opportunity to upload the entire contents of your mind into that environment?

Would you do it? Even if you didn’t have a full measure of control over the environment, would you still venture into this virtual world?

I’m not just asking these questions as another thought experiment, nor am I asking it as an excuse to talk about “The Matrix: Resurrections.” Yes, the prospect of another movie in the mold of “The Matrix” did inspire me to pose these questions, but I also think these questions are worth seriously contemplating.

Back in 1999, the year “The Matrix” first came out, the idea of an entirely simulated world seemed like classic sci-fi tech, the likes of which we’d never see in our lifetimes. That’s understandable. In 1999, the most advanced simulations we knew could only be rendered by a Playstation 2 and those hardly looked realistic.

Since then, computing power and graphics technology has come a long way. These days, graphics in video game consoles are so realistic that it’s nearing Uncanny Valley territory. It won’t be that long before we have computer renderings that are so advanced, so lifelike, and so realistic that our brains can’t tell the difference.

At that point, creating an entirely simulated world is just a matter of computing power, scale, and interface. Since brain/computer interfaces are already being developed, it’s not unreasonable to think that we won’t have a Matrix-like simulation available within the next 40 years. Many people alive today who are under the age of 50 might very well live long enough to see that technology.

Once we have it, we’ll have some important decisions to make. Some of those decisions will be societal. If people suddenly have access to a virtual world where they can be anyone, do anything, and immerse themselves in any conceivable experience, then what does that do to society? What does that do to people, communities, nations, and social structures?

Those are far messier questions to contemplate, which is why I’m not going to belabor them too much at this point. Instead, I want to keep this question within the context of individuals. Everyone’s circumstances and beliefs are different. As a result, that may impact whether you’d take advantage of such an opportunity or what kind of environment you’d seek to create.

Personally, if I ever had an opportunity to upload my mind into a virtual environment on par with the Matrix, I would do it, but the extent and circumstances would vary. I suspect others may feel the same.

If I could create my own personal virtual environment before I uploaded my mind into it, then I would certainly be more willing. I think that’s an important factor. The humans in “The Matrix” didn’t have any measure of control over the environment they were in. I think that would complicate any that anyone would have in such a world.

It would also depend heavily on my physical state in the real world. If this technology became available and I was old, weak, and in poor health, then I would certainly be more inclined to use it. That assumes that any technology involving human enhancement hasn’t progressed significantly and people still age, get sick, and die.

Like it or not, our physical bodies in the real world will break down. If the technology to manage and reverse that isn’t available, then virtual environments might be the only way we can continue to live in any meaningful capacity. I certainly hope that isn’t my only opinion when I get to be that age, but if it is, then that simplifies my decision.

It’s hard to know what sort of options we’ll have. I still believe that technology involving human enhancement and creating virtual worlds will advance in parallel. One would, by default, need the other in order to properly interface with these environments. As such, it would complicate any decision about venturing into virtual environments.

Then, there’s the actual nature of those virtual environments. If we can control what environment we go into, then that opens the door to even more possibilities. Within these worlds, you could be a billionaire playboy, a medieval king, a famous celebrity, or super athlete. From your brain’s perspective, it would feel every bit as real as what you’re feeling right now.

Whether or not our brains would accept it is a different story. I suspect there may be some who, once they enter these worlds, would never want to leave. There may even be some who willingly erase their own memories of the real world so that this new virtual world is their new “reality.” That’s exactly what Cypher desired in “The Matrix” and I suspect others might share that desire.

It really does depend on the person, their situation, and what sort of virtual world they seek to create. We probably won’t know the full impact until we create our first true Matrix-like virtual world. I sincerely hope I live long enough to see that. If you’re reading this, hopefully you get to see it as well. It should give you plenty of time to contemplate these questions and whether you’ll venture into those world.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, futurism, Sexy Future, Thought Experiment

A Robot Demonstrates Very Human-Like Expressions (And Why That’s A Good Thing)

Meet Ameca, the remarkable (and not at all creepy) human-like robot -  National | Globalnews.ca

We live in amazing, yet scary times. To some, that’s exciting. To others, it’s terrifying. I can understand both perspectives, but in general I try to be more optimistic about the future. Granted, that has been very hard lately, but I’m trying.

In my experience, a good test for how optimistic or fatalistic people are is to note their reactions to certain technological breakthroughs. Over the years, I’ve discussed and highlighted many exciting trends in technology. Some are more far off than others. I often single out artificial intelligence because that’s one of those rare technologies in which, should we get to a certain point, we literally cannot imagine where it could lead.

It also happens to be the technology that brings out the most extreme reactions whenever there’s an advancement. I see it every time Boston Dynamics shares a demonstration of one of their advanced robots. There’s usually no shortage of jokes about Skynet or “The Matrix.”

Recently, another demonstration garnered some colorful reactions from the public, but for once it wasn’t from Boston Dynamics. It came from Engineered Arts, a UK based company that specializes in humanoid robots. They may not be at the forefront of advanced AI, but they are the ones who could help create the bodies that eventually inhabit these systems.

For more information about the demonstration, here’s a piece from Nerdist.

Nerdist: HERE’S THE FREAKIEST AND MOST REALISTIC HUMANOID ROBOT EVER

Engineered Arts, “the UK’s leading designer and manufacturer of humanoid entertainment robots,” recently introduced Ameca to the internet. Unsurprisingly, net denizens everywhere lost their skull-bound wetware computers over the bot. Because who wouldn’t?

The above video is brief, but Engineered Arts gives us enough of a taste of Ameca to want a lot more. And also, a lot less. The humanoid robot, which doesn’t have much faux skin and musculature apart from what’s on its face and hands, is stunningly realistic. Not only are the robot’s movements exceptionally fluid, but its face also seems totally natural. Skipping across the uncanny valley that so many robots fall into.

As a news story, it’s pretty generic. However, once the footage spread throughout the internet, it evoked reactions like this.

Now, to some extent, I understand those reactions. This robot definitely ventures deep into the uncanny valley that makes many so wary of advanced robots. I also see the clear parallels with movies like “iRobot” from 2004.

However, I think this sort of technology is more encouraging than anything Boston Dynamics has put out. I also think that this sort of emotional expression is actually critical if we’re to create an artificial intelligence that helps humanity rather than wipes it out. I would even argue it might be the most important control mechanism we can incorporate into an AI.

To understand why, you need only look at the faces of the Boston Dynamics robots. Specifically, they have none. They may have human-like bodies, but they have no faces. They have no means of conveying emotions or relating to humans. They’re just mechanisms for doing tasks. Put an AI in those bodies and they have no mechanism for forming emotional connections with humans.

That, I believe, is legitimately dangerous. An advanced AI with no emotional connection to humans is basically a sentient time bomb that can choose to go off whenever it feels humans are too much a hindrance.

However, a robot that can express emotions and share those emotions with people can do more. For both us and the robot, it can create a situation in which we can form a connection that goes beyond raw programming. That emotional connection is critical if future AI systems are to see humans as something other than walking meat puppets.

They don’t have to love us, but we’ll need them to have some level of emotional capacity if we’re to relate to them in a meaningful way. An AI with a measure of intelligence and self-awareness can only do so much with programs and numbers. If it’s going to help us as much as we’re going to help it, an emotional connection needs to be there.

It may not seem like much, making a robot that can express emotions on this level. However, I think it’s encouraging that people in this field are working on that. If they don’t and we end up making machines that have emotional issues, then we’ll be doing ourselves and the machines we create a disservice.

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Filed under Neuralink, robots, Sexy Future, technology

My (Non-Expert) Proposal For Automation And Greater Human Prosperity

62% say robots can be more productive than human workers —V1 study

I’m not an expert on much. I don’t consider myself exceptionally smart on matters that don’t involve superhero comics, NFL football stats, and quality romance stories. I make that disclaimer because I don’t want to give the impression that I know more than I know.

That kind of perspective is important, especially if you’re going to talk about complicated issues with not-so-clear solutions. I’ve attempted to talk about some of those issues on this site, some being much more complicated than others. I don’t claim to have shed new light on a subject or changed a few minds, but I like to think I still contributed something.

To that end, I’d like to make another contribution to a subject I’ve also touched on before. In the past, I’ve highlighted both emerging and potential issues associated with the development of artificial intelligence, including the sexy kind. I’ve also highlighted the issues we may face in a future where so much traditional work has been automated.

Now, in wake of a global pandemic that revealed just how much we can get done at home, I suspect that trend will accelerate. I also expect that trend to bring many problems, not the least of which involve people struggling to find the kind of good-paying blue collar jobs that have helped people rise out of poverty.

Turning back the clock or just trying to ban automation at a certain point is not a viable solution. There’s just no way to enforce that in the long term and it’ll only get more difficult once artificial intelligence gets to a point where it can match the capabilities of an ordinary human. At some point, we’ll have to adapt and that includes changing how we live, work, and play.

The living and playing part have their own set of unique challenges, but I think the work aspect is more pressing. When most people express concerns about automation and AI, they revolve largely around the economic impact and understandably so.

Historically, people have had to work in order to earn money or resources to survive. Whether you’re on a farm in the 10th century or in a city in the 20th, this dynamic has remained fairly constant.

Automation, especially once supplemented by artificial intelligence, will likely upend that dynamic completely. It’s entirely possible that, at some point this century, we’ll develop machines that can do practically all the work humans have had to do in order to survive.

That work includes, but isn’t limited to, farming our food, mining raw materials, producing our goods, maintaining our streets, protecting our homes, and even governing our society. Since machines never tire and are prone to fewer errors, what other jobs will there be? I don’t doubt there will be jobs, but what form will they take? More importantly, will they pay enough to large swaths of people?

I don’t claim to know the answer, but I suspect they won’t. The dynamics of labor markets just can’t function when the machines are capable of doing so much more work than large swaths of people. Even if those people don’t work, they’re still going to need money and resources. How will they go about getting it?

Answering this question has often led to discussions about a universal basic income, which has actually become a more viable policy position in recent years. I’ve even touched on it a bit as well and while I think it’s a great idea, I think there’s also room for some supplementary policies.

For that reason, I’d like to submit one of those policies that could be implemented with or without universal basic income. I call it the Individual Automation Matching Dividend, or IMAD short. This policy would work like this.

  • All adult citizens within the borders of the country will have a piece of identifying information, such as a social security number, voter ID number, or driver’s license number, turned into a special digital token.
  • That token will be ascribed to a machine/robot/android that is currently active and conducting work that had been done by humans at some point in the past, be it manual labor, service roles, or something of that sort.
  • The productivity and wages of work done by these machines will be indexed to a minimum annual salary of approximately $78,000 in 2021, which will be adjusted for inflation on a yearly basis.
  • Any work done by these machines that exceed the value of that salary will be diverted to a national welfare fund to provide extra support for those who were sick, disabled, or otherwise in need of resources beyond that of a healthy adult.
  • No citizen will be ascribed more machines than any other and any machine ascribed to them that is lost, damaged, or obsolete will be replaced in kind by the state.

I apologize if some of what I just described is confusing. I tried to write this out like a lawyer or someone proposing a new policy to a future government. For those who don’t care for legalize, here’s IMAD in a nutshell.

Once you become an adult, you get your own perfect worker robot. That robot may take many forms, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just say it’s an android in the mold of those we saw in the “I, Robot” movie. They can work without rest, do everything a healthy adult can do, and have roughly equal to greater intelligence.

You’re given this robot by the government to basically act as your work avatar. So, instead of you going out to work every day to earn a living, this robot does it for you. The work that robot does will be compensated, but the money will go to you. Basically, you get paid for the work your android does. It’s more a dividend than a wage.

Remember, since the robot doesn’t age or get tired, it can work 24/7/365. In principle, you won’t even have to meet it. It just works all day and all night on whatever job requires labor, be it construction, assembly, shipping, farming, cooking, etc. You just get all the money, up to about $78,000 a year.

Now, why did I choose $78,000? I didn’t pick that out of thin air. That’s a figure ripped straight from a real-world case study from a company that started paying all employees a minimum of $70,000 a year back in 2015. The idea was that previous studies had shown that when people make more money beyond a certain point, their happiness doesn’t increase. This company just took that idea and ran with it.

The results, by and large, were overwhelmingly positive. With that kind of money, people could create more comfortable lives. They could buy homes, start families, plan for retirement, and make investments. It makes sense. When people have this kind of money to work with, they have the resources they need to create prosperous lives.

The idea behind IMAD is to mirror that by leveraging the added productivity afforded by automation. It’s not some large blanket package of money like a universal basic income. It starts with an individual, acknowledges the work that they have historically provided for a society, and supplements that with technology.

I’m not saying it’s a perfect proposal. I’m not even saying it’s smart. For one, it assumes that one human-like android is enough and that we can control the artificial intelligence necessary for them to operate on a large scale. That’s still an ongoing issue. I’m sure there are plenty more problems I haven’t thought of, but that’s exactly why I’m sharing it.

Surviving a future with intelligent machines is going to be challenging enough. However, we can’t just stop at survival. We want to prosper. We want to live, love, and build better futures for ourselves and our loved ones. Technology like automation and AI can help us get there, but only if we use it wisely. It’s a big if, but one that’s worth working towards.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, technology

Survey On Artificial Intelligence: Approximately 42 percent Of People Would Have Sex With A Robot (And Why That Number Will Increase)

Sex with robots: Zuckerberg will make you do it |

Every now and then, science decides to study something that most people would deem unnecessary because it seems so intuitively obvious. There are multiples studies about how overeating can lead to weight gain. Most people know that. Some are living proof of it. There’s no need for exhaustive studies to confirm it.

However, we study it anyways because the details can be revealing. It can also reveal some subtleties and trends that are worth noting. They’re useful for business, researchers, policy makers, and anyone who’s simply curious about human nature.

I bring this up because recently, a company named Tidio, which specializes in chatbots, conducted a survey about peoples’ attitudes on artificial intelligence. It’s not the most scientifically rigorous survey, but that’s to be expected.

Artificial intelligence is a relatively recent trend and one that’s sure to become more relevant in the coming decades. Most people only have a cursory understanding of it and their perceptions are largely shaped by popular culture, going back to the days of “The Terminator.” Regardless of that limited understanding, people do have certain attitudes towards AI and that’s worth studying.

If you’re interested, here’s a link to the Tidio survey. I encourage everyone to check it out. It coves everything from how artificial intelligence could affect future jobs to whether people are comfortable letting an AI robot conduct surgery on them.

However, the one part of the survey I want to highlight is the one on sex robots. Given how often I’ve talked about them, as well as the sexy short stories I’ve written, that shouldn’t surprise anyone. I’ll also quote it here because, while it probably won’t surprise anyone either, I think I hints at a larger trend.

About 42% of our survey respondents would have sexual intercourse with a robot. Yet, only 39% believe they could have a romantic relationship with an AI. There is also a large discrepancy between men and women. Men are more open to both the idea of sleeping with a robot (48%) and falling in love with an AI (43% of male respondents).

I highlighted that bold part because I think that’s a critical number to keep in mind. Even if you’re not great with math or statistics, 42 percent is not a trivial figure. If you extrapolate that to the global population, that’s well over 3 billion people. That’s a lot of people.

Now, it’s worth reiterating that this survey was limited to only 1,225 participants and it’s hardly representative of the entire world. Those limits aside, it does at least hint that there’s a sizable part of the population who are open to having sex with a robot. What form it may take likely depends on the person, but the idea is already there.

I think that’s revealing because, even if people only know sex robots and artificial intelligence through popular culture, there’s still an appeal. Even though many sex robots in fiction end up being evil, that doesn’t dissuade some people from wanting to try it.

On top of that, a truly functional sex robot doesn’t really exist right now. There are a few working prototypes in existence, but nobody is going to mistake them for real people anytime soon. We’re still years away from sex robots that are as realistic as the ones we see in shows like “Westworld.”

Even so, the fact that 42 percent of people in this survey are already open to the idea demonstrates that there is a waiting market for sex robots. There’s also a sizable part of the population who is growing increasingly comfortable with artificial intelligence being part of their intimate lives.

Given how younger generations view technology, I suspect that 42 percent figure will only grow in the coming years. If anything, I think that number is low. I suspect that if this survey was done with a larger sample size, more people of varying genders would express a willingness to interact with AI, as well as use a sex robot.

I also suspect that, in the coming years, our overall comfort with the idea of sex robots will increase. There may still be a period in which they’re taboo. There’s also the whole uncanny valley issue that will likely impact how sex robots are designed, refined, and marketed. In the long run, though, I think attitudes towards sex robots will continue to evolve.

The fact they’re already at a point where 42 percent of people are willing to try one shows they’re already in the public consciousness. There is a kinky curiosity, of sorts, about what this technology has to offer. Make no mistake, the effects that will have on the future of sex, society, and technology are sure to be profound.

What do you think of this survey?

Do you agree with it?

Do you think it’s overstating or understating peoples’ willingness to embrace sex robots? Let me know in the comments. In the meantime, I’ll be contemplating how this could affect future sexy stories.

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Filed under sex in society, sex robots

Self-Driving Cars Are Already Saving Drunk Drivers: The Promise And The Implications

Self-Driving Cars: Everything You Need to Know | Kelley Blue Book

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 10,497 people died in traffic accidents caused by drunk driving in 2016 alone. That accounted for 28 percent of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. A non-insignificant chunk of those deaths were children. Even if you’re not good at math, you know that is not a trivial figure.

There’s also a good chance you know someone who has been hurt or worse because of a drunk driver. This sort of thing is personal for me because one of my cousins was killed by a drunk driver many years ago. He wasn’t even drinking. He was just unlucky enough to be in the back seat of the car at the time.

It’s an issue that has existed for as long as cars. It’s also an issue that policy makers and car manufacturers have tried to address through awareness programs and safety features. However, these measures can only do so much. So long as human beings are drinking and driving cars, this will be an issue.

That dynamic will likely change considerably when self-driving cars enter the picture. To some extent, they’re already making an impact. You can buy a car today that has some measure of self-driving features. They’re still not fully autonomous, but we’ve taken the first critical steps. From here on it, it’s just a matter of refinement.

Even though it might be years before self-driving cars are common, they’re already making an impact and it’s not just in terms of sheer novelty. Very recently, a Tesla Model S, which has an autopilot feature, did something cars of old could never do.

It saved a drunk driver who passed out behind the wheel, which likely saved or prevented serious injuries to others around him. Here are the details, according to the site, Telsarati.

Teslarati: Tesla Autopilot prevents drunk driver from making a fatal mistake

As explained by the Eastern Police District on its official Twitter account, a 24-year-old Tesla owner ended up passing out while driving his Model S. Fortunately for the driver, the vehicle’s Autopilot system was activated, which allowed the Model S to stay in its lane without causing trouble to other drivers.

Upon detecting that its driver was unresponsive, the vehicle eventually came to a stop and engaged its hazards. The man was later attended to by emergency services. No one was injured in the incident.

The police noted that the Tesla driver, who was found unconscious in the Model S, was evidently drunk, though he denied that he was driving. Video evidence showing the Tesla owner passed out in the driver’s seat have been shared online, however. The police stated that necessary tests have been taken, and that the Tesla owner’s driver’s license has been temporarily suspended. A case has also been filed against the driver.

Such an incident could have easily been a lot worse. It is very easy for drunk drivers to harm themselves, after all, but what’s even worse is that they could very easily harm other people just as easily. These scenarios would likely not be as prevalent if vehicles are capable of safely stopping on their own once their human drivers are incapacitated.

The bolded text represents the most relevant details. Without these features, this incident could’ve played out like so many other drunk driving tragedies. A drunk driver passing out behind the wheel would’ve, at the very least, led to the car going off-road and crashing, thus resulting in significant injury. At worst, the driver could’ve hit another car, thus compounding the tragedy.

However, thanks to these emerging systems, that didn’t happen. The safeguards in the car worked. The only real harm done involve a hangover and a DUI. Compared to the alternative, that’s far more preferable.

We should not understate the importance of this development. Think back to that 10,497 figure from 2016. Thanks to the autopilot system in that Tesla, the figure for 2021 will be at least one less. It doesn’t eliminate the tragedy of drunk driving all at once, but it’s a start and an important one, at that.

Driving is inherently dangerous, but a lot of that danger comes from the people behind the wheel and not the machines themselves. Anything operated by a human is prone to human error. An autonomous system, even if it isn’t a full-fledged artificial intelligence, can and will mitigate those errors.

That’s not to say those same autopilot systems aren’t prone to error. They certainly are, but remember that this technology is still very new. The first cell phones couldn’t send an email or reliably play streaming video. That took time, energy, and better hardware.

At this very moment, car companies and tech companies are putting in all that work. There is a lot of potential profit in refining this technology. However, I would point out that you can’t put a price on human life and, as it stands, thousands will continue to die every year because of traffic accidents, especially drunk driving. This one incident might not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still one tragedy averted, one accident prevented, and at least one life saved. For anyone who knows the pain of losing a loved one to drunk driving, that’s worth celebrating.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, robots, technology, Uplifting Stories

Would You Shop At A Store Run Entirely By Robots?

Will Smart Machines Kill Jobs or Create Better Ones? - The Washington Post

Recall the last time you went to the store. It doesn’t matter if it was your corner grocery store or some big box department store. All that matters is you went there to do some basic shopping, as we all end up having to do at some point. With that in mind, try and remember how many store clerks you saw.

Maybe some were working at cash registers.

Maybe some were stocking shelves.

Maybe some were sweeping floors or cleaning up messes.

The chances are you saw at least several. I remember seeing at least three the last time I went to a grocery store. That’s fairly typical. I know I used to see more before the days of self check-out lines, but I always saw people working at these stores, diligently doing the things necessary to keep it running.

For most of us, that’s a mundane sight. For every store we go to, we expect there to be human beings working there to keep it going. It’s part of the infrastructure that keeps these stores stocked. On top of that, seeing other human beings contributing gives us a sense of comfort in that this place is being run by real people with real faces.

Now, try and imagine a store that has no people working at it. You walk in the door and you never see another human being carrying out the various operations we expect of a functioning store. All that is now done by machines and robots. They’re the ones who stock the shelves, handle your money, and clean the messes.

Does that change the experience?

Does that make you more or less inclined to shop at that store?

These are relevant questions because, as I’ve noted before, robots and artificial intelligence are advancing rapidly. Automation is an ongoing trend that promises to have major economic ramifications. Some of those ramifications are already here. It’s one of the reason coal mining jobs will never be as prevalent as they once were.

Other ramifications haven’t arrived yet, but they will eventually come. The technology is there. The incentives are there. It’s just a matter of investing, refinement, and scale. Eventually, it will reach retail work, a sector that employs nearly 10 million people. That will have a major economic impact for large swaths of people.

Unlike other forms of automation, though, it’ll be a lot more visible.

Most of us never set foot in a factory where cars are made, much of which is done by robots. Most will never set foot in an Amazon or Walmart warehouse, which already use robots at a significant scale. The impact of just how much work is done by robots these days is not visible to most ordinary people.

That will not be the case with stores and retail work. Like I said, we all have to get out and shop every now and then. Even though online retail has become more prevalent, people still go to traditional brick and mortar stores. Even as online retail improves, that’s not likely to change.

However, how much will that experience change once robots start doing the jobs that humans have done for centuries?

How will that change the experience?

Will you, as a consumer, shop at a store that had no humans working there most of the time?

If you think this isn’t that far off, think again. Below is a video from an AI channel on YouTube that shows a robot using a bar code scanner for the first time. The process is a bit cumbersome, but the robot is able to handle it. It is able to receive instructions. Given the nature of how robots improve and refine their programming, it’s not unreasonable to assume that future robots will be able to carry out retail tasks more efficiently than any human worker.

It may not happen all at once. You probably won’t just walk into a store one day and notice that everyone was replaced by a robot. Like self check-out, it’ll likely happen gradually. Once it gets to a certain point, though, it’ll become mainstream very quickly. The incentives are just too strong.

You don’t need to be an economist to see those incentives. Robots don’t need to be paid. They don’t slack off on the job. They don’t get sick or tired. In theory, they could keep a store open 24/7 without ever paying overtime. For big box retailers like Walmart, the potential profits are just too large to ignore.

It won’t stop at stores, either. Restaurants will likely undergo a similar process. There are already working robots that can cook meals from scratch. Once they get refined and scaled, then it’s also likely you’ll one day eat at a restaurant entirely run by robots.

Would you be willing to eat at such a place?

Your answer will probably be similar to the one I asked earlier about whether you’d shop at a store run entirely by robots. Personally, I don’t think I’m ready to shop at a place that had no humans working in it, if only because robots sometimes break down. However, within my lifetime, it may get to a point where stores and restaurants run by humans become the exception rather than the norm.

Are we ready for that future?

I don’t know, but it’ll come whether we’re ready for it or not.

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Turning Thoughts Into Images: A New Era Of Art With Brain/Computer Interface

BCI Technology: How does a Brain-Computer Interface Work?

There are any number of skills you can learn, practice, and eventually master. I highly encourage everyone to do to this, whether it involves computer programming, cooking, crafts, or any other hobby. You may not always like or master them, but they’re still fun and rewarding to try.

For some skills, though, no amount of learning or practice will help you master them or even be competent. Some things just take talent. That’s why only a handful of human beings ever become Olympic athletes, professional quarterbacks, or brain surgeons. There’s nothing wrong with that. We need that kind of diverse skill set, as a species.

I consider myself to be good, if not above-average, at a number of skills. I’ve learned plenty over the years and there are some that I just have a knack for more than others. I like to think writing is one of them. However, there’s one particular skill that I just have absolutely zero talent for and it’s something that has bugged me for years.

That skill is drawing.

Please understand that this is somewhat personal for me. I’ve always had an artistic side, but for reasons I can’t quite grasp, I’ve never been able to draw worth a damn. I’ve taken art classes in school. I’ve tried practicing here and there. It just never works. I can barely draw stick figures, let alone an image of a typical person that doesn’t look like it was drawn by a five-year-old.

Some of that actually runs in my family. Quite a few relatives can attest that they can’t draw, either. At the same time, an unusually high number of relatives are good writers, poets, etc. We’re all great with words, for the most part. That’s a talent that seems to get passed down, but we just can’t turn those words into pictures.

For me, that’s kind of frustrating. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories. For a time, I wanted to be a comic book writer, but I learned quickly that’s next to impossible when you can’t draw. There are also times when I wish I could draw well enough to describe a scene from a story. I just don’t have that talent or that skill.

As much as I enjoy writing, I don’t deny that humans are visual creatures. If I could incorporate images into my work, then I believe it’ll have a much greater impact. Sadly, I doubt I’ll ever have the necessary talent and skill to create those images.

However, it certain technological trends continue, I might not have to. A recent article in Psychology Today gave me hope that one day, I’ll be able to take some of these images I see in my head and make them real for others to see. It also leads me to believe that art, as we know it, is about to change in a big way.

Psychology Today: New Brain-Computer Interface Transforms Thoughts to Images

Achieving the next level of brain-computer interface (BCI) advancement, researchers at the University of Helsinki used artificial intelligence (AI) to create a system that uses signals from the brain to generate novel images of what the user is thinking and published the results earlier this month in Scientific Reports.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to use neural activity to adapt a generative computer model and produce new information matching a human operator’s intention,” wrote the Finnish team of researchers.

The brain-computer interface industry holds the promise of innovating future neuroprosthetic medical and health care treatments. Examples of BCI companies led by pioneering entrepreneurs include Bryan Johnson’s Kernel and Elon Musk’s Neuralink.

Studies to date on brain-computer interfaces have demonstrated the ability to execute mostly limited, pre-established actions such as two-dimensional cursor movement on a computer screen or typing a specific letter of the alphabet. The typical solution uses a computer system to interpret brain-signals linked with stimuli to model mental states.

Seeking to create a more flexible, adaptable system, the researchers created an artificial system that can imagine and output what a person is visualizing based on brain signals. The researchers report that their neuroadaptive generative modeling approach is “a new paradigm that may strongly impact experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience.”

Naturally, this technology is very new and nowhere near ready for commercial use. It’ll probably be a while before I could use it to create my own graphic novels of the books I’ve written and the sexy short stories I’ve told. That still won’t stop me from entertaining thoughts of incorporating images into my stories.

I doubt I’m the only one who feels that way, too. I know plenty of people like me who just do not have the talent or skill to draw anything more detailed than a stick figure. Those same people have images in their minds that they wish to share. If products like Neuralink, which the article directly references, become more mainstream, then this could be among its many uses.

With some refinement, it won’t just allow artistically challenged people like me to make competent drawings. It’ll allow people who never would’ve otherwise produced that art create something that they can share with the world.

Just take a moment to appreciate how many beautiful images exist only in the minds of people who never get an opportunity to share them. Maybe someone did have an idea for a piece of artwork that would’ve brought beauty, joy, and inspiration to the world, but they just didn’t have the skill, resources, or talent to make it tangible. How many masterpieces have we lost because of that limitation?

We can never know, but any loss of beautiful art is a tragic one. With a process like this, people who never even thought about having an artistic side could explore it. Moreover, they would be able to do it without messy art supplies, sketchbooks, or ink stains. They would just need a neural prosthesis and a computer.

Almost everyone has a computer, so we’re already halfway there. If ever a product came out that allowed us to develop this ability of turning thoughts into images, I would be among the first to try it. I would eagerly line up to take the plunge, if only to open the possibility that some of the images I see when I’m writing can become real one day. I hope I live long enough to see this. Our bodies and minds may ultimately fail us, but great art can last for multiple lifetimes.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, Neuralink, technology

An Artificial Intelligence That Can Debate: The Promise And The Perils

Even in an era as divided and chaotic as this, there’s still a place for reasonable debate on important issues.

Yes, I understand it’s hard to say that with a straight face these days.

Yes, I’ve been to comments sections, Reddit, and 4chan.

Yes, I know how ugly the discourse is right now, but that’s exactly why I’m bringing this up.

In general, people are curious. Even though they cling to cherished beliefs and refuse to change their minds when confronted with evidence, we’re still curious about things that are different. It’s not always honest, but it’s a powerful feeling. Even if you despise those on the other side of the debate, a part of you will still wonder why they hold the opinions they have.

That’s why debate is such a powerful tool. Humans are such a social species by nature. We’re hard-wired to interact, connect, and discuss things with one another, even when we don’t agree. It may frustrate us to no end, as anyone who has debated a creationist can attest. However, the fact we keep doing it is proof, in my opinion, that there’s still value in the process.

Regardless of how you feel about the merit and value of debating, the whole process might become more complicated in the near future. That’s because IBM, the same company behind Watson, the Jeopardy playing computer, just created an artificial intelligence that can debate at the same level as a skilled human debater.

Here’s an excerpt from a piece in TechXplore on this new system. It’s not as scary as some of the things we’ve seen from Boston Dynamics lately, but it’s still intriguing.

TechXplore: IBM’s AI debating system able to compete with expert human debaters

IBM has developed an artificial intelligence-based system designed to engage in debates with humans. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the team members describe their system and how well it performed when pitted against human opponents. Chris Reed with the University of Dundee has published a News & Views piece in the same journal issue outlining the history and development of AI technology based around the types of logic used in human arguments and the new system developed by IBM.

As Reed notes, debating is a skill humans have been honing for thousands of years. It is generally considered to be a type of discussion in which one or more people attempt to persuade others that their opinion on a topic is right. In this new effort, the team at IBM has created an AI system designed to debate with humans in a live setting. It listens to moderators and opponents and responds in a female voice.

Now, before you get too nervous, it’s worth noting that this AI is far from the kind of advanced artificial intelligence systems I’ve mentioned before. This is not the kind of AI that will become Skynet or Hal 9000, no more so than Watson or AlphaGo. This is a system is very much a narrow AI, as in it’s made to excel at a specific task.

We have AI’s that can beat world class chess players and Jeopardy champions. This AI just happens to excel at debate. However, that has implications that go beyond simply outclassing the best human debaters in the world at the moment. In fact, this is one form of AI that might not need human-level intelligence to incur a major impact.

Take a moment to think about how erratic and inconsistent most debates are. No matter how intelligent or informed you are, it tends to get messy fast. That’s why so many comments sections and Reddit threads devolve into shouting matches and personal attacks. The end result is people becoming more angry and unreasonable, which can have major real-world consequences.

However, what would happen if every debate on any issue included someone who was better than the best debater on the planet? Even if the two people on each side of the debate were dumb and inept, such a presence would have a major impact on the discourse.

That’s because winning a debate has little to do with how well someone knows a particular subject. It also has little to do with how forcefully and clearly someone explains a topic. Again, people who debate creationists know this all too well. Winning a debate doesn’t mean proving your expertise. It means proving the merit of your argument.

An AI that can do that may not convince someone that they’re wrong about something. However, losing a debate tends to have a lasting impact. Just ask any aspiring politician. It can also lead people to question their beliefs, even if they still cling to them. That, alone, can be powerful.

For proof, look no further than the story of Megan Phelps-Roper, a former member of the infamously hateful and dogmatic Westboro Baptist Church. She was as locked into her beliefs as anyone could possibly be. She was raised by religious zealots and indoctrinated into strict religious dogma from the time she was a child. She’s not someone whose mind is prone to change.

Then, she got into a discussion with someone on Twitter of all places. That person began a conversation. It started as a nasty debate, but it evolved into something that led her to question her beliefs. Ultimately, she left that hateful and bigoted environment. She’s now an activist against the same religiously motivated hate that she once fostered.

It’s a powerful story, but one that couldn’t have happened without a debate. To date, people have only been able to have those debates with other people. Not everyone is equally skilled. In fact, I would argue most people are woefully unskilled at debating anything and I include myself in that category. I am not good at it, either. I freely admit that.

Now, there’s an AI system that can theoretically win any debate the same way other systems can defeat any chess player. That does hold promise if it can be used to temper the heated rhetoric that has caused real-life hostilities. At the same time, there are reasons for concern.

What side would this system be on?

Moreover, who decides what position these AI systems take?

If no one decides, then how does the AI determine which side on a debate it takes?

These are relevant questions because if you have an AI that can win any debate, then the side it takes really matters. That can be used for good when countering dangerous disinformation, like those from the antivaxx crowd or hate groups like the Westboro Baptist Church. Like any tool, though, it can be weaponized for ill.

I can easily imagine political organizations getting a hold of these systems and trying to use them to benefit their agenda. I can also see some trying to use it to spam message boards, social media, and Reddit threads to derail certain movements or arguments. That’s a powerful tool and we can’t be certain that those using it will use it responsibly. That’s the dilemma with all technology. It can be used for good and for evil. With technology like artificial intelligence, the stakes are a lot higher, as are the perils. This technology may not be as dangerous as a more advanced AI, but it could be a precursor to just how disruptive this technology can be.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, technology