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Artificial Intelligence may be a human trait, not a machine’s

As I was going through some old Sun Advocates recently I came across a column in an August 1970 issue of the paper written by Robert Finney, the publisher of the paper at the time. He used to place his column on the front page of the paper and called it “The Scribbler.”

        Finney’s column in that issue was about computers and his distrust of them. Of course, in 1970 all he probably knew about them was that when he called some large business such as a bank or a corporation, people would say that they would have to access the computer because the information he needed was locked up in it, and it would take a few days to get it out. He didn’t have one on his desktop, much less in his hand, as we do today.

        He was basically worried the human touch would be lost. One day we would call somewhere to get info and all we would get is a recording, and the human element would be lost altogether. While some of what he said was different from what we have experienced, he was pretty prophetic in what he wrote. He even mentioned that by the end of the 20th Century we would just dial an order on the phone to the grocery store and it would be delivered right to our door. (For those of you too young to remember, in those days you dialed a phone on a funny little wheel with numbers on it, instead of pushing buttons.) While in terms of computerization that kind of service didn’t take place by 2000, it is an actuality and becoming more common every day.

        He also said that he didn’t trust computers much because they were machines, devices without empathy or sympathy.

        Fast forward almost 50 years and how much of what he speculated about has come true? The difference is that we now hold more computing power in our hands than they did in computers as big as a skyscraper. Funny too is the fact that the company that dominated computers back then is almost a side note (albeit a big one) now when it comes to people using them, IBM. Just like what he said in 1970, our computers now think. It’s called Artificial Intelligence. It development is just beginning to touch our lives.

Remembering HAL

        While we are not quite there yet (or at least not to any of our knowledge), the HAL computer from 2001 “A Space Odyssey” is becoming a reality. Will that reality be like HAL, turning on his supposed master because he doesn’t think the human is capable of handling things? Or will it only be a servant? I remember when I saw that movie in the late 1960s, it scared the hell out of me. In high school at the time, it made me start to think about AI, although I don’t think the term even existed. Today a number of companies sell devices you can talk to throughout your house to get things done and questions answered. The days of Star Trek when Captain Kirk says, “computer, tell me blah, blah, blah” are here. But is AI a threat to human kind? Many science fiction writers have written stories over the years about AI running amok. Two diverse, but well-known scientific and business minds have also called it a threat to humanity. Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk both have cautioned that AI could lead to the demise of humankind. Yet, they both use it in different ways to make their life and business better.

Not an early adopter

        As for me, I generally embrace technology, but not too quickly. I learned years ago that anything new that shows up may have a lot of glitter at first, but after that wears off the bare truth shows through.

        That’s why when confronted over 30 years ago between buying a VCR video machine and Sony’s Beta Max I went for the video tape. While I was always an Apple fan, the Newton which came out in the mid 1990s, one of the first hand held computer devices and one a good friend of mine bought and used, looked awfully limited to me. It

also cost an arm and a leg for what it did at the time. The Newton was cool, but not cool enough to lay down a grand for. There are plenty of other examples of things I “waited to see” on and in some cases I have missed the boat. But I have to say I have never been sad about it.

        So many in today’s world think they are educated because they learn so much from the Internet. People who have had little formal education can develop opinions and find support for anything they believe, whether it has merit or not, on the web. Whole social movements, without any real information that is thought through, have started there. While bringing people of like minds together is a generally a good thing, in some cases it has been disastrous. Many of those who disparage real learning, critical thought and scientific inquiry instead rely on innuendo, conspiracy and rumors they wish to be true, have found support there. I find it ironic that that information is brought to these same people through the development of a technology that was invented by the very “egg heads” they disdain.

        Maybe Hawking, Musk and all the rest of us that fear what AI can do to the world have it wrong. Maybe it is not the AI that the machines are capable of processing is what will destroy us, but the AI that some human beings get from the machines that will bring us down instead.


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