Tag Archives: robots

I’m back…sort of

Yes it has been a very long time and no I haven’t forgotten that I am the writer of this blog. So at the risk of sounding perhaps a tiny bit presumptuous it seems that I have had some more important things to do lately. First of all there was that little contract I may have mentioned three, four or five times before. It has kept me busier than expected. And then there was the 103rd birthday party I attended which, if you have ever been to one (and most I am guessing have not) was a really big deal. Beyond that there’s nothing much more to say except that I’m back now….sort of. And I say “sort of” because once again, and not for any reason connected to those excuses I just made, this will be a blog post, but not a shallow blog post. Mostly because I have had a long time to think about what I am going to say next and what better place to say it than in my own blog? At any rate, I do this every once in a while ‘cause even I can’t be shallow all of the time.

This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, although it may be a surprise to those who don’t, but the thing is I have quite an aversion to dolls. I especially don’t like dolls that can talk, walk, eat, pee or do other things that something without blood coursing through its veins shouldn’t be able to do. And to be totally honest, it’s not just dolls I don’t like. While it’s a little hard to explain, for the most part I don’t like any type of inanimate object made to look like people, animals or even insects. Anything really that can be purposely or accidentally dismembered. Because when things can be dismembered they will be. Like when your little bro’ decides it would be fun to see what Barbie looks like without her head. Or has a grand old time slowly but surely eating each of the parts of a gingerbread man, delivering a virtual play by play in between bites. And it should suffice to say that I can in no way condone the travesties that occur around Easter and Christmas when the markets are flooded with chocolate bunnies, chicks and Santas.

Before you get too concerned let me state categorically that there was no early trauma in my life to blame for this state of mine.  As Ms. Germanotta would say, “I was born this way”. This is not a phobia (I’ve checked) but rather a preference, one which doesn’t have a significant impact on my life. It’s quite simple. My chocolate comes in bars, my cookies are round or square and it’s been a very long time since Barbie has been in my life. Besides, as someone once politely suggested when I explained why I was turning down their offer of a gummy bear, everyone has their quirks. This is mine. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about robots. Because for reasons I am sure you now understand, I don’t like them very much either. And while my problem with other inanimate objects might not have a huge impact on my life or yours, robots will.

In case you missed it, (or as the young people say icymi) not so long ago there was an article in the Globe and Mail, (so most probably not fake news) about a start-up in Vancouver where some very smart people are dedicating their lives to the development of some very smart robots. These robots they proclaim, will “move, speak and think for themselves and interact – as intellectual peers – with real people on a daily basis in intimate and vital roles…” . This, the article goes on to say, “will fundamentally alter the basis of capitalism itself by introducing an entirely new type of synthetic species that could do much of the work now done by humans”.  And not only will this new species talk, walk and think like us, they will also look like us since the creators have determined that we (as in humans) prefer to interface with our own likeness. Just in case you should think that this is some “pie in the sky” hoopla, the writer assures us that Mr. Rose (the fella at the helm of this project) is a successful visionary entrepreneur who is “the closest thing Canada has to Elon Musk”, although given the events of the past few weeks that might not be as stellar an endorsement as one would have previously thought. Nonetheless, it seems to me, even as a shallow person, that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that what these people (yes there is more than one really smart person involved) are doing is just about as big a deal as that 103rd.  

As I made my way through the article, learning perhaps more than I ever wanted to know about things like AGI (that would be “artificial general intelligence”) and the apparent inevitability of robots becoming part of our not so distant, and depending on your perspective Utopian or Dystopian future, I found myself wondering if any of these enthusiastic, and possibly overzealous geniuses had spent even a moment of their time thinking about the ethics of what they are doing.  So you can imagine my relief when quite near the end of this very long article the question of ethics was finally raised. I mean they had to, didn’t they? And they did. In black and white. Because they know there might be issues. Like what would happen if some unscrupulous human got fed up and decided to erase their robot’s memory? Or started taking advantage of their robot? Or treated their robot as a lesser being?

Wait a minute. Am I mistaken or are they thinking more about the welfare of the robots than they are about us humans? Surely these people have thought about how the creation of a whole new species might impact the species that currently inhabits this planet of ours. Alas, it would seem not. When asked “what if thinking robots challenge the goals or motivation systems programmed by humans?” or “who would be responsible if human-like robots commit crimes?” the answer was a very definitive “I don’t have any solid answers to these questions yet.” So here’s a suggestion. Maybe we should all try to come up with a few solid answers to these questions before you start creating robots that can fundamentally change the course of history, not to mention the human race. You know.  In case something goes wrong.

Ok, I’ve gone on a little long so I’ve only got one more thing to say. Truth be told, this whole thing scares me a whole lot more than biting off the arm of a gingerbread man.

BTW…If you want to take a gander on what’s going on in the lab, have a look at this.

All excerpts from Sean Silcoff, The Globe and Mail, Saturday, September 8, 2018. In the Company of Robots.

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I am not a Robot

I gotta tell you. Writing a shallow blog these days is tough. There are just so many things that make it hard. Believe me. It’s not just about the “moron” (not my words) down south. He’s a problem but like many things, he too shall pass. Unfortunately there are more endemic issues we all face over the long term. Like climate change. Unless you have been living under a rock, and one that miraculously hasn’t been uprooted by a major hurricane, or bulldozed by those brave men and women fighting the extraordinary fires of late, it seems almost impossible to deny that our climate is, in fact, changing, leaving paths of death and destruction in it’s wake. And guns. I suppose not guns in and of themselves. But guns without controls. Guns that end up in the hands of people who, perhaps due to mental illness or, in my less benevolent moments, are quite simply horrible, decide to use them to take away hundreds and thousands of innocent lives. Lately that’s happened a lot. Honestly, it seems not a week goes by without some natural or unnatural disaster taking place and so it’s hard. Hard to be shallow in this world of ours.

Here’s the thing. I’m sure you understand by now that even though I am a self professed shallow person, I have feelings. Just like you. Well almost. So all this stuff bothers me too. Afterall, I am not a robot. Google knows that ‘cause I always check off the “I am not a robot” CAPTCHA on their sites. Which is a good thing since, to be brutally honest, I don’t really like robots very much. As a matter of fact, I find them pretty creepy. And if I must say so myself, I’m in pretty good company with the likes of Elon Musk, and my personal fav, Dr. Sherry Turkle, weighing in on what our collective future could hold with a bunch of tin men and women walking by our sides. Ok, they might not be made of tin but, make no mistake about it, they will be walking by our sides.  

I’m guessing that for some of you this revelation may come as a bit of a surprise. Because you might expect that if anyone was going to embrace the prospect of having a companion who, for all intents and purposes, looks and feels like you and me but remains unencumbered by the complexities of the human condition, it would be me. After all, we’re talking about a facsimile that will pretty much do your bidding without batting an eyelash, which, by the way, they will have. No questions asked. No drama. No feelings to hurt. Actually, no feelings what so ever. They’ll laugh when you laugh, cry when you cry. Out of bananas? They’ll get those for you without all the whining that would normally accompany such a request to the “real” people who reside in your home. With a robot by your side you could start to think that life had become that proverbial bowl of cherries. And I’m pretty sure they’ll pit those for you too. So what’s my beef? Why would the shallow gal feel so apprehensive about what is clearly touted as the next best thing since sliced bread? Well, here’s why.

Call me crazy but somehow I don’t cherish the prospect of sharing my life with an animate, inanimate object. Especially one that has a brain programmed to learn way more than my brain ever will. I’m an adult educator. I know all about lifelong learning. But this brings that concept to a whole new level. We’re not talking just about intelligence. We’re talking about artificial intelligence. This is not computer assisted learning. This is computers actually learning. Computers that are walking around your homes, businesses, playgrounds. Yep, there too. Computers that are getting smarter and smarter every day. Certainly smarter than you and me but also smarter than the smartest people we have among us. And they’re going to look a lot like us, although they are never going to get blemishes or wrinkles or big brown spots on their faces and hands. Elon Musk is worried that robots will take away our jobs. Rightly so. They can already teach themselves how to walk and talk and very soon they will be able to do what you and I do, only much better. Sherry Turkle worries that we have become so accustomed to interacting with devices that soon we won’t know what’s real and what’s not. Nor will we care. It’s a worry for sure. But I’m worried about a couple of other things.

Like guns. Guns and robots. We all know that guns are a problem. Guns in the hands of the wrong people are a bigger problem. Guns in the hands of robots? A problem perhaps too big to imagine. Here’s a scenario for you. A robot walks into a gun shop. Asks to buy a gun. Of course they do a background check. Not a problem. Robots don’t have backgrounds. It gets the gun. Now it tells its robot friends how easy it was. They all decide this is a really good idea and do the same. Remember.  There are hundreds and hundreds of robots who are smarter than us and have no real feelings. But now they have guns. Maybe they decide they don’t like people who are not as smart as they are. Or maybe they decide they just want to have some fun. You know. Like in the movies or the video games. I don’t know about you but this seems like a big problem and a pretty good reason to not like robots very much.

But that’s not the only reason I don’t like robots. It seems to me that if anyone or anything could be more shallow than me, it would  be a robot. A really smart robot. With no feelings. Smarter and shallower than me. I’m guessing that robot would never be stumped for ideas about what to write. No matter what’s going on in this world of ours. Hmmmm. Maybe I need to give this some more thought. Under the circumstances, getting a robot to write this blog might not be such a bad idea. 

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It could happen to you


brainy-peopleI know I’ve said this before but at the risk of repeating myself, I thought I would mention that my Mother,
kenahora, (don’t worry, you can check it out here.) recently had her 100th birthday. And if you can excuse the redundancy, you should also know that my Mother has three sisters who are, respectively, 96, 94 and 85 years old. Their Mother was 102. So to say I know something about living long is a bit of an understatement. I know a lot about living long. And well for that matter because, if I might say so, all of these ladies have lived and are living, very wonderful lives. Which, as Martha would say (and yes, I’ve said this before too), is a very good thing. Given the facts, it’s not all that surprising that people who know this story of mine jump to the somewhat dubious conclusion that I too will one day find myself, hammer and nail in hand, placing that elusive to most plaque from the Queen (or more likely, in my case, the King) on my living room wall. And while I might, I also might not because, as you are most likely aware, there are no guarantees in this or any other life and one never knows what one will face each and every day. It’s just the way it goes. What will be will be. Ca sera sera.

Nevertheless, not too long ago I found myself watching a docu/news show about longevity and the amazing research taking place that will, sooner than later, let all of us live to be 1000. That’s right. Scientists tell us that it is possible that someone who is alive today will still be alive 1000 years from now. So if you are reading this, it could happen to you. Apparently there are various ways for this to come to pass, most of which I don’t care to understand as they seem to demand some rather invasive medical procedures, and one of which involves downloading your brain into a computer which doesn’t seem quite so onerous and I would imagine, would be somewhat faster and require much less direct participation from me. It’s complicated but I suppose if you think you are still thinking, perhaps you are. Cogito ergo sum.  And I suppose it wouldn’t be all that bad. Especially if they could take that computer brain and put it into a fantastic robot body. I mean, imagine. Not only could you live for a 1000 years but you could do it in someone else’s hot body. Like Marilyn Monroe. Or Jennifer Lopez. Or perhaps Ms. Streisand which in my particular case, wouldn’t be much of a stretch or, from what I hear, much different. But as compelling as all of this might sound, as a shallow person I got thinking about the prospect of being stuck on this earth for a thousand years and decided there could be a considerable downside because knowing what I know, I have to ask, who really wants to live to be 1000? And the more I thought about it, the more reasons I came up with, so in true “shallow be my name” fashion, I thought I would take this opportunity to share some of the most persuasive of them with you. Here they are. My top 10, most persuasive reasons for not wanting to live to be 1000 at the end of which, I am confident, you truly will be careful for what you wish.

#1. If you can live to be 1000 so can that irritating neighbor of yours.
#2. You’re gonna need a year’s worth of stars to get a free one at Starbucks and that’s a lotta lattes.
#3. Survivor season 753, and Jeff Probst is still counting the votes.
#4. Gas is $700.00 a litre, food costs you a couple grand a week and you haven’t had a raise in 500 years.
#5. 1000 years old and you still haven’t won the lottery.
#6. Just how many times do you think you can feign excitement when you hear “Honey, I’m home”!
#7. Meatloaf again?
#8. If you’ve said this once you’ve said it a million times. Literally.
#9. Your brain has been downloaded to a computer and you’re living in a robot body. Think about it.
#10. And last but not least, I’ll still be writing this blog and you’ll still feel obligated to read it 1000 years from now.

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