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Robot Wars

Stand down Red Alert – false alarm

The press, usually one or two of those with red header banners, delight in posting scare stories about how vicious robots powered by sinister ‘AI’ are about to take over the world and, like the Daleks of Dr. Who, exterminate us all.

This is really irresponsible juvenile behaviour and editors should know better because there are still many people, often those who read this type of paper who, like my grandmother firmly believe “if it’s in the papers it must be true” even though in her particular case it may have been influenced by the fact my grandfather was a printer on the Daily Mail – and  we know everything in there is always ‘true’!

Add to this the enthusiasm with which AI (so called Artificial Intelligence) is being embraced in some circles is leading to an underlying belief emerging of AI being able to ‘do’ things we humans can’t.

When I first ventured into employment, I was a systems analyst specifying processes and programs for a leading UK food company. I was at the forefront of what people are now incorrectly describing as AI – we called it ‘programming’ – the purpose of which was to create computer systems to process data faster and more efficiently than it could be done manually.

AI is the extension of this, far more complex and convoluted, but AI is still, at the end of the day, just an interconnected set of programs. Now, although you can program programs to duplicate and extend programs, they are still just code, written by and developed by human intelligence. Everything AI can do is an extension of ‘HI’ (human intelligence) and it’s vital we don’t forget it. We’ve created systems to do stuff we can do but much faster and more efficiently than we can liberating us from many of the mundane tasks we’ve encumbered ourselves with as we seek to develop the human experience and explore new possibilities. (and for those who know it insert Star Trek intro!)

The definition of ‘intelligence’ is “the human faculty of thinking and understanding”, the intellectual capacity of humans marked by complex cognitive feats and high levels of motivation and self-awareness. Through intelligence, humans possess the cognitive abilities to learn, form concepts, understand, apply logic and reason, including the capacities to recognize patterns, plan, innovate, solve problems, make decisions, retain information, and use language to communicate.

Artificiality (the state of being artificial or manmade) is the state of being the product of intentional human manufacture, rather than occurring naturally through processes not involving or requiring human activity. It is essential this context is held in mind with all ‘engagements’ with AI. Computers ‘compute’ they cannot ‘understand’ and can only interpret by comparison of data with which they have been provided directly or indirectly.

‘Artificial intelligence’ is based on computer code written initially by humans. Any capacity it has, to mimic any of the above abilities, is derived entirely from human intelligence in the first place.

So what about robots? What is a robot? It’s a machine incorporating a computer system programmed to perform a specific task or tasks which in most cases could be done by us but in some cases not, when they operate in hostile environments, usually where we can’t live or breathe but also if we do something wrong or incorrectly a ‘bomb’ of some sort is likely to go off and kill us.

There are millions of robots up and running right now most doing mundane and repetitive tasks like putting cars together or picking products of shelves. Apart from a few experimental devices none of these looks remotely like us, like humans, they are designed for the job, maybe having several arms rather then two, multiple ‘eyes’ (cameras’ and far more effective ways of moving about where wheels or tracks are more appropriate then legs.

Remember always AI is only a highly complex array of interconnected computer programs, written by humans and created by human intelligence. Despite what science fiction writers and elements of the popular media may tell you it cannot think for itself, it cannot create or procreate, and it cannot, by itself, take over the world and kill us all . . . unless someone programs it to.


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