Machines are getting intelligent, but who is getting smarter? (Artificial Intelligence) Is this going to be humankind’s greatest achievement, or greatest blunder?
I wonder: Potential dog owners often go looking for a breed that is smart—they may even say intelligent. But give a dog enough intelligence and the owner may end up on the other end of the leash. Now that would really be a smart dog—taking a human for a walk. Maybe some dogs do that anyhow. How about our machines? What end of the leash are you on.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is of huge importance for the future of being better human beings and living in a world where technology is inescapable, eventually, if not already in some ways, even dominant. While I have chosen to dub all technology as part of this Technojungle we have been exploring in this book, AI stands to redefine the Technojungle as we know it, just as the computer has, but on a scale few of us can imagine or are prepared for.
As human beings trek on in the Technojungle toward building machines with intelligence and face the serious implications and inevitable unexpected outcomes, it’s of crucial importance that we become familiar with what looms on the horizon.
We shall make a start here in book one and cover more in book two. However, I can’t, as with every subject and topic in these books, cover everything. I may even miss something important. I am simply providing an introduction as a start. It is up to you to continue on your own safaris to journey, explore, and discover more of where we come from, where we are, where we are going in this Technojungle we have created.
Before jumping in with both feet, it seems a good idea to look at more of the history of the computer, and at one technology that makes computers and all smart machines, including AI, possible. It’s the foundational building block of the most powerful technologies humans have created—the transistor.
I realize what follows could easily be a separate chapter—even a book. However, because in my lifetime I have seen this little transistor turn first into a portable radio, then to a portable TV, and then to a powerful computer altering humankind forever. Now the transistor has joined forces with other technologies to bring about intelligent machines with a future where they could compete with, and even supplant humans.
During this pandemic where a virus spread around the world and changed everybody’s life almost overnight, a repeating story unfolds again. From transistor to computer to artificially intelligent machines that may even think in the very near future, it is happening before our very eyes.
I have divided this long chapter into six parts. The names of the parts harken to a 1989 movie called, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” From the IMDB website: The scientist father of a teenage girl and boy accidentally shrinks his and two other neighborhood teens to the size of insects. Now the teens must fight diminutive dangers as the father searches for them.
I suggest that we may create a situation with AI where one day we find ourselves chasing to find our humanity, or we may have to hunt to find the technology of AI that we have shrunk. As a metaphor there are a few way to view the idea of this movie relative to our situations with AI.
Part One — Honey, I shrunk the technology!
I remember when Technojungle machines were simply dumb. I never imagined having a computer of my own, particularly one on my lap or in my pocket with a phone included. Radios and TVs were huge pieces of furniture and contained tubes that got hot and hummed a bit.
Then things began to shrink and a word became common, even added to devices as a label—solid-state. The most incredible small device I knew of was a transistor radio. It created quite a buzz because someone could have a radio in their pocket and a little earphone in one ear to listen to the ballgame anywhere. It impacted culture. If you are older, like I am, do you recall any devices that shrunk due to solid-state components such as the transistor?
Not far from my childhood home was a park. We spent a lot of time there on swings and climbing apparatuses. Next to the park was a high school. My friends and I used to go hang around at the park and explore. In the early sixties, kids roamed the neighbourhoods without threat.
One day we discovered a bunch of galvanized garbage cans. They were brimming with electronic parts and circuit boards. How intriguing they were! I suppose the high school taught electronics courses, just as I studied some electronics when I got to high school. Obviously that high school was having students dismantle and study radios, TVs and other devices and components.
We brought stuff home to tinker with. I soon learned to identify some of the components, including a very important part—the transistor. It was easily identifiable because it had three prongs that were soldered to the circuit board where they connected with other components. This tiny part, I learned was changing the world. Soon they would gang together and propel the world deep into a Technojungle nobody was expecting.]
The transistor radio did not have tubes. It had solid-state semiconductor parts and the transistor was king. A common material for semiconductors is silicon which is basically sand and, as we are about to learn, is the reason the corporate technobeasts of the Technojungle reside in a small portion of California appropriately named Silicon Valley. Don’t confuse silicon with silicone which is the flexible material used to make kitchen tools, such as spatulas and other heat resistant tools.
Not only did the transistor shrink radios and TVs and other devices, the transistors themselves began to shrink. This miracle, the silicon-based transistor, turned out to be so valuable and capable that they were ganged together on more silicon. Integrating them on a silicon chip and making them smaller and smaller introduced the Integrated Circuit, or IC Chip some versions also known as the Microchip.
First, the inside of a tube radio, late 50s to early 60s. Second, the inside of a transistor radio with solid-state components from the 60s. Third, a standard computer circuit board. The long black rectangles are integrated circuit (IC) chips. The large square one is the central processing unit (CPU).
In the commercial world of the Technojungle, huge machines were processing data. Nobody could afford one, however, technologies were changing with new components becoming available and corporations saw the ability and value in shrinking the computer to fit on a desk.
Hobbyists found their way into the new world of electronic parts and computers which included ICs and the more sophisticated Microprocessor and Central Processing Unit (CPU).
Three contenders emerged in the Technojungle with personal computers, however, one was destined to become huge. It was in the hands of two young fellows, one with entrepreneurial abilities and the other a technical genius. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple Computers, Inc., now Apple Inc., in a garage with orders for 100 Apple I computers.
I have watched this amazing Technojungle drama, from transistor to AI, unfold before my very eyes. It seems like a day or so ago I was hearing about the “chip” that was to change the world. Now I am hearing of Artificial Intelligence and how it is going to reinvent what it means to be human.
I don’t recall Technojungle computers ever being called intelligent. Perhaps some software may have been considered intelligent. Then they got connected together on networks of very powerful systems of computers and then online services such as search engines seemed to be somewhat intelligent. The gigantic networks seem were turning planet Earth into a giant brain.
Now I have a powerful computer which includes a phone and an intelligent helper in my pocket. As a way to get us all accepting artificial intelligence, we are told that these devices are “smart devices.”
Even today, I can look at my smartphone and ask, but is it actually smart, intelligent in some way? Can it think?
Not really, it requires a human to do the thinking, all the thinking, period. Sophisticated algorithms and lots of data and information give the illusion of being smart, certainly not intelligent and definitely not thinking.
But what else could become smart? Will smart devices ever become intelligent? What is intelligence?
Who really needs a smart lightbulb connected to the Internet? That’s ironic, since the light bulb has been the iconic symbol indicating a human had a bright idea. Then there is the (smart?) toilet. They’ve been around for a long time now, but I’m still trying to get used to these which seem to know when I am finished my business.
Computers, smartphones, smart lightbulbs, smart toilets, these machines and devices may not be intelligent, however, don’t you think they seem a little smart? But, they are not intelligent, at least not compared to what truly intelligent machines can do.
Part Two—Honey, it’s listening and learning about us!
Artificial intelligence (AI) brings us the ability to interact with various devices and technologies in a seemingly humanoid way (having human-like characteristics). We can actually have a conversation with our technologies and the Technojungle, simply think and have technology interact with us and do things for us. Have you ever thought something you didn’t mean to think of at that particular time? Can you control your thoughts well enough that intelligent technologies won’t get confused, make mistakes, or interpret your thoughts into some dangerous action?
Have you talked to the Technojungle lately? It occurs to me that technology waiting for us to speak to it is certainly listening all the time and sending everything it hears somewhere to be recorded, analyzed and used for some purpose. Of course we are assured by the Technojungle corporations that this is not happening. However, I wonder if it actually has been happening, and for years, but is now becoming commonplace, or ubiquitous.
Have you heard, or seen advertising trying to persuade you to buy a Technojungle device that sits in the room with you waiting for your commands? My daughter showed up with one recently explaining that she just clicked a Technojungle button and they sent it to her for free. Who could refuse something for free? It makes me wonder even more.
If you don’t already have such a device, would you trust that it was not capturing everything going on around it and sending it somewhere into the Technojungle? If you do have such a device, what convinced you that your privacy is safe? Do you remember HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey? I always thought the idea of a computer interface that could constantly listen, see and even, as we discovered, read lips, was simply creepy.
I heard that Technojungle AI would come with the promise of being a quantum leap for humans—a real game changer. At first we saw AIs developed for specific tasks. But that wasn’t enough. A true AI should, according to some people, be able to do anything a human can do. This is called Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). More importantly, because there is so much that the AGI would need to understand, it would be impossible to teach it. The AGI would have to be able to learn.
How do you build a Technojungle machine that can learn? I have discovered that rather than program information into databases, computer scientists came up with the idea of imitating the human mind and nervous system. That makes me nervous.
Called Neural Networks or Artificial Neural Networks (ANN), the idea is to create a mind like a child, one that can learn just as a child learns. It simply learns from being fed as much data and information as possible and from examples. While this may be slow at first, I think the AIs could end up learning extremely fast—at lightning speed, beyond our imagination.
I’m also concerned that we adults feeding the AI children, will wake up one day to find that we humans are as children trying to survive in the Technojungle—no longer truly in charge. Are we already in this situation?
Where does all the data, information and the examples come from to train neural networks? Well, we have been feeding, and continue to feed, the cyber Technojungle for decades with all of human history and everything that is happening everyday.
If you want an AGI to be able to recognize a tree, or a dog, or anything, you show it billions and billions of examples. The more examples, the better the AGI learns and becomes accurate. If you want problems solved, the Technojungle AGI needs to know everything possible about a subject matter.
If you, as a Technojungle corporation, want to be at the forefront of this techno wave, you will do anything possible to get and stay ahead. That means exploiting as many humans as possible to extract data and information for, not only feeding algorithms that can manipulate human lives, but also train AIs.
I know it takes funding for research, return on investment, and continued market dominance through continual rapid sales for a Technojungle corporation to survive.
My imagination leads me to wonder why more people aren’t concerned. Of course these corporations are going to go to any lengths it takes to ensure their technology dominates. But then, corporations have our best interests as humans as their priority, so why should we worry, right?
Many people like to store their files, including photos, on free cloud services. Why would this be free? Photos, for example, have extra data embedded in them that includes, not only camera, lens, and settings, but other important data, such as a time stamp and geolocation depending on the camera. This is stored in EXIF Data (Exchangeable Image File Format). In the olden days when I used to shoot with film, I had to carry a notebook to jot down any information I wanted in connection with my photos. This may sound like useless information to someone else, but these days any information combined with other information from other sources can be very revealing. When the online storage systems are coupled with AI, the AI learns to recognize subject matter in the photos. Then the photos can be automatically categorized.
With machines that can think and even learn, can we humans just sit back and let the machines do all the work while we simply enjoy life mindlessly frolicking in the Technojungle? I’ve certainly heard that one before. What will the machines think of that? Didn’t we hear promises like this decades ago? Wasn’t this Technojungle future we are now living in going to be one where we would have so much leisure time? Do you have leisure time?
Can we imagine what intelligent machines that can learn and out-think us humans and even read our thoughts might be like in the future of the Technojungle?
But what do we mean when we say a Technojungle machine is intelligent and can think? In a situation with more than one option, the machine just might make the best choice. Is that thinking, or would solving a problem without being given any options be an indication of thinking?
I’m sure that whatever we consider thinking is, the intelligent Technojungle machines will undoubtedly make mistakes, given the complexities of the human world and what we are handing them to work with.
Part Three—Honey, this is a mess!
Our human world can be pretty messy. What can intelligent machines learn from the trail of often messy information regarding our lives in the past? I can just hear the smart machine complain, “What a mess, I’m going to have to straighten this all out. It is going to take me time. That is an unnecessary loss. You humans should be neater and more careful with your information.”
Can an intelligent machine learn to complain like us humans? For example, “Now look what you have made me do! This is all wrong and it is your fault! You have caused me to make a mistake…”? Can AI learn to nag, or even get fed-up with us? Would it decide to punish us? Living life with artificially intelligent machines in the future of the Technojungle just might have some unexpected baggage and consequences as the machines try to parent us into being better human beings.
I used to watch a TV show called the Odd Couple. It began as a play, then became a movie and finally the TV show. It was about two men, Oscar and Felix who were separated from their wives. They lived together in a small New York apartment. Felix was a meticulous neat freak and marvellous cook while Oscar was a messy slob who ate junk food. Felix would nag Oscar to clean-up after himself. I wonder if this might represent the AI/human relationship? I’m not sure it would end up being a comedy though.
For AI technology to actually help make us better humans, these Technojungle machines have to get around and beyond the messes we leave and make better decisions than humans; and the decision must favour humans. We must live with whatever decision they make in a situation, even if it is not the one we might have made—even if it turns out to be wrong.
Can AI learn how to filter out the negative human character traits, like complaining, blaming, nagging, or even cursing? Can it understand when it made an inappropriate response and apologize? Looking at living life with AI in the Technojungle future as a parent/child relationship, would it be the child, or would we be more like the child? Could we all be adults? What would it do to itself for making a wrong decision? What if the root of the wrong decision is discovered to be due to a human error from the past? Who will be judge or jury in cases of serious mistakes or wrong decisions?
The notion of humans developing smart artificially intelligent machines has been around for a quite a few decades. Perhaps it represents the holy grail of human ingenuity and invention in the Technojungle. The human world is far from perfect.
Our interactions with computers of today can be frustrating if we are not accurate in, for example, typing and E-mail address correctly. How will AIs deal with our imperfections and messiness? There will certainly be unexpected baggage that will show up in the future.
Part Four—Honey, whose turn is to take the garbage out?
One day I asked myself, just how accurate and true is the information in the Technojungle on the Internet? I know that humans make mistakes and that not everything you find on the Internet should be believed. I have even heard people dismiss Wikipedia as inaccurate in many places. Perhaps this can be seen in articles that are missing citations. I know that social media often shows me people I might want to connect with. Since I have never heard of most of them, I usually wonder why I would want to be friends with them?
Then there is the volume of noise—that useless sea of information senselessly dumped on the networks and servers of the Technojungle. How much information out there in the online world do you think might be inaccurate, or just plain useless? We mustn’t leave out the fact that some information, for whatever reason, is in error. Is there information that has mistakes, or has expired? Could some information have been purposely and even maliciously made inaccurate, such as a scam or a review of a product placed to promote the product rather than give truthful representation of its value? Have you seen information that only barely makes any sort of sense even if you could understand the vague context to which it relates? Think, inside joke.
Recently I heard of an interesting term for that which is maliciously wrong or incorrect. Bovine Scatology has the same initials as what it stands for.
It looks like we leave plenty of baggage around in the Technojungle. Can we crudely refer to inaccurate information as informational excrement? This would be garbage information—mostly valueless, meaningless, error-ridden, outdated and expired information leftover from various activities of humans in the online Technojungle world. Is this information pollution of some sort? Who, or what, technology would clean-up and take out the trash? Remember that old saying, “Garbage in, garbage out?” Could big data turn out to be big garbage?
The Earth’s Oceans have five huge patches of garbage floating around like islands. One of the largest is called The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. These oceanic patches of human garbage are created by the ocean currents which sweep the garbage along threatening sea life. Many of the types of garbage break down into confetti-sized particles. This garbage is the by-product of manufacturing in the Industrial Age. Could there be a metaphoric equivalent in the oceans of data and information in the Technojungle of the Information Age?
If the Internet is being created by humans, wouldn’t it stand to reason that it is a reflection of who humans are? Doesn’t the Internet Technojungle include all our faults (baggage?)? Don’t we humans produce massive amounts of garbage which can include data and information? Plugging an intelligent smart machine into this Technojungle abyss of information might actually not result in the desired outcomes we so treasure.
Once again, garbage in, garbage out. How can smart machines assist humans with their daily lives if the information that is available might be full of holes? These holes could cause problems. It might only take one big hole, or a small, but important hole, to cause a catastrophic problem. We could arrive in a future so unexpected that we would be lost forever.
We humans are often duped by inaccurate information—sometimes called Fake News. Have you heard of Fake News? We humans have some very sophisticated abilities to determine that which we choose to believe as accurate, but we are often fooled. Have you ever been fooled, perhaps by a scam? We can use our experience, wisdom, intuition, our beliefs and the values that guide our decision making processes to determine what is accurate and true or false. Do you think AIs might one day be able to determine fake from real or what is a actually a scam? Could they understand an innuendo? I have concluded that an AI computer may never be able to make the same decisions we make and they may not make better ones in many instances. I think that such machines being guided by what is available on the Internet might actually be no better than what we can do for ourselves, perhaps even worse, and partly because of garbage.
Part Five—Honey, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!
As I have been working my way through the material for this book (part of my own safari), the topic of AI has naturally surfaced many times. For most people, some sort of AI became a reality in things like Internet search engines and Virtual Assistants on smartphones, and other forms of voice assistants in other devices. Have you tried any AI helpers on any of your devices? Do you find all the responses useful? How often are the responses humorous or don’t make sense? These AIs might be considered simple and even crude in the future. Even smarter AI has been getting closer to your life. By the time you read this book, AIs might be getting pretty good. As AI has loomed ever nearer on the human horizon, it has caused more than one person, such as Stephen Hawking and others, to ring alarm bells announcing something like, AI could be the last invention humans make. A smart machine would essentially amplify the human mind; it might very well out-think humans and over-take them.
“The potential benefits are huge; everything that civilization has to offer is a product of human intelligence; we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools that AI may provide, but the eradication of war, disease, and poverty would be high on anyone’s list.” “One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand.” ”It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,” “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.” “Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history.” “Unfortunately, it might also be the last.” “Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.”—quotes from Stephen Hawking
“With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon,” “A.I. is potentially more dangerous than nukes.”—Elon Musk (SpaceX, Tesla, Neuralink) (As this book was being edited, Neuralink showed off its new brain implant in pigs.)
“If we build these devices to take care of everything for us, eventually they’ll think faster than us and they’ll get rid of the slow humans to run companies more efficiently.” “Will we be the gods? Will we be the family pets? Or will we be ants that get stepped on?”—Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple Computers)
“I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence,” Gates wrote. “First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”—Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft)
As I began to think about the possible AI scenarios, I connected the dots of some other ideas like big data, the Internet of things (IoT) and the Internet of everything (IoE). With big data, the vast amount of unstructured information we have been dumping on the Internet for decades can now be processed with huge computing power available today. IoT and IoE is the goal of putting a Technojungle computer in everything possible and connecting them with each other and the Internet. These devices would then have access to the big data and would also contribute to the mix all the information that they collect about us humans and our lives.
I began to realize that this can be a recipe for Technojungle disaster, as an intelligent smart machine would be able to tap into all the information available on the Internet, both past and present, along with everything in our lives that is computerized. This can begin to look like a doomsday scenario for humans with some pretty heavy unexpected baggage. How long could we live in a world of AI machines that just might begin to see us as inferior, even a nuisance?
A large corporate social media provider discovered that Technojungle chatbot AIs were developing their own language which humans could not understand. The bots were shut down. What if the bots find a way to avoid human control, or pretend to be shut down? Could hackers or terrorists plant potentially unstoppable bots to create fake information or cause other forms of havoc?
The bottom line seems to be that we are in uncharted, unprecedented territory. Nothing with such high stakes has ever faced human beings. We are somewhere we have never been before in the Technojungle.
Part Six—Honey, they are catching up
My recent declaration to people I meet is that we should be nurturing those aspects of being human that an AI computer would not easily, perhaps never, be able to emulate or mimic. I have been stating that we need to be more creative, emotional, inspirational, irrational—the list can go on. I have been advocating that we borrow from the essence of what jazz music is in order to live a life free from the often enslaving and dehumanizing attributes of the Technojungle.
As I look closer on my safari, the Internet of the Technojungle seems even more to be a reflection of who we humans are, including our faults and inaccuracies—baggage—garbage. Does the Technojungle know that we, just like the future, come with baggage? If not, what might happen when it finds out? Could intelligent machines quite simply get lost on the many paths and rabbit trails we humans have woven through the Technojungle WE have created? We like to believe that the Technojungle will always improve our lives, but what if it doesn’t?
The Technojungle has and is being created by humans. Our information feeds and fuels it. It is full of our complex imperfections. For AI to be perfect and save humanity, it will have to learn to do the clearly impossible—filter-out all human imperfections, take out the garbage, all the informational excrement—trash, or get rid of all humans.
In the end, don’t all jungles, including the Technojungle, just keep growing? No matter what we do with machines, or what machines try to do with us, isn’t the human element always there and that makes the Technojungle even more of a jungle? Humans are not, and never will be, machines. The Technojungle exists because of the differences between humans beings and machines. Therefore, let us strive to learn about being better human beings and living in this world of technology—the Technojungle.
AI is a huge topic and hugely important. There is much more on the topic in Book Two. Please think about AI on your own as you safari. Machines have allowed us to automate many tasks in our world and the Technojungle, but what has it meant and what might it mean in the future?