So, there are driverless cars cruising along the palm fringed boulevards of California. That’s fantastic. My claim to fame is that my own car is semi-driverless. When I advance along a road at around forty kilometres an hour I don’t have to put my foot on the accelerator for about a half a kilometre. It hums along, propelling itself without my intervention. Then the mystical force fades and it reverts back to being an ordinary, sluggish, aged, ford falcon. It is probably more psychotic than robotic.
I wouldn’t mind a new driverless car, but then again any new car would be an improvement on my chugging hulk. The driverless car is said to be able to prevent accidents and be safer for its passengers. Machines it seems are superior to humans. But do people trust them?
Eminent physicist Stephen Hawking doesn’t. He is of the opinion that they could mean the end of the human race. Yikes! I know that I have said the photo copier at work will be the death of me, but I don’t think that is what he meant.
I am all for them. Machines, automatons, robots, bring them on. They can cook my tea, do the vacuuming and feed the dog. I will happily resort to the role of a lazy, stupid, sofa slug, especially if I had a robot that resembled the immaculately attired Hymie from Get Smart. Now there was a sweet machine. He was smart, strong, devoted and endearingly literal as in, “Hymie will you answer the door.” To which he replies “Sorry door, what was the question again.” Ha.
Think of life with a robot like that. You could lounge around your virtual pool calling orders on a whim, “Hymie, another pina colada,” “Hymie, a little sunscreen on my shoulder,” “Hymie, stop chatting up the refrigerator.”
Stephen Hawking thinks we will be made redundant. It wouldn’t take much to make me redundant. I like to write, but there are already machines that write sports reports (and if they are writing about the men’s Ashes I hope they use the appropriate vernacular such as: shocker, shellacking, stinker.)
While some of us are wary of machines that may make our jobs redundant, others attribute questionable, personality disorders to machines. (Did I say that my ef ford, short for Ella Fitzgerald Ford, is psychotic?)
Take HAL 9000 for instance, the supercomputer featured in Stanley Kubrick’s film based on a story by Arthur 2001: A Space Odyssey. Let’s give him a gender because he has a male voice. He is portrayed as a treacherous character, given to clandestine, unspeakable acts. I say he has been given a bad rap.
Okay, okay I hear what you are saying. It becomes evident that he is a rapscallion of the highest order. But did HAL programme himself? No. Who was the wise guy who built and programmed HAL, saddling him with the objective of the mission and then giving him conflicting instructions? This conflict as we all know in the robot business is the Hofstadter-Möbius loop. I know that if I were to get caught in this loop, apart from suffering from vertigo, I would have a nervous breakdown. And so did poor HAL.
It’s the humans who are the problem, not the machines. Think of Dr. Smith and the robot in Lost In Space. Dr. Smith: bad. Robot: good. Of course these are all fictional characters, but they represent how we like to project human feelings onto machines.
Sony introduced the Aibos or robot dogs in 1999. They sold one hundred and fifty thousand of them. The families named them and took the dogs to their hearts, even giving them funerals when they sadly bleeped their last electronic pulse.
Nasty wartime drones will do nasty wartime things because they are programmed to. Nice robots will do nice things because they will be programmed to, and if anything causes a catastrophe it will most likely be due to human error.
Meanwhile I will drive my part-time driverless car and just hope that she doesn’t turn against me.