We are used to advances in medical technology, such as cloning and stem cell research, colliding with issues of morality. But could robot technology pose the same sticky moral questions? I was in the middle of blogging a New York Times report about an association of computer scientists discussing the dangers of artificial intelligence and ... my Internet browser just crashed, erasing half of this article! I kid you not!
So ... hey, you know what I think about robots? I think they're wonderful. Every last one. Bless our robots! Especially Mozilla Firefox. And as I return to the story about robots' morality, I proceed with caution and promiscuous use of the Save button.
So these gathered computer scientists aren't exactly paranoid academics who've watched too much Terminator. The head of the association is a former Microsoft researcher. Another participant is a co-founder of Sun Microsystems. But they are plenty worried about artificial intelligence getting too smart or falling into the wrong hands, and the Times goes along for the sci-fi ride. Even the story's photo captions -- "Servant now, master later?" -- are like something out of a dystopian Isaac Asimov novel.
But frankly, the worries, at least as presented in this article, seem a bit overblown. And I'm not just saying that to placate Firefox. The beating (or bionic) heart of the piece seems to be this paragraph:
While the computer scientists agreed that we are a long way from Hal, the computer that took over the spaceship in "2001: A Space Odyssey," they said there was legitimate concern that technological progress would transform the work force by destroying a widening range of jobs, as well as force humans to learn to live with machines that increasingly copy human behaviors.
Robots displacing human workers? As any laid-off manufacturer or former elevator man can tell you, that's not very new at all! In fact the last two recessions have preceded so-called jobless recoveries, and one cogent explanation is that technological advances in certain industries are wiping out jobs, so that fired workers don't have a job to return to after the recession.
To be sure, I'm gratified that these scientists are grappling with issues like, How do we keep criminals, and national enemies, from using our cutting edge technology against us? But it appears we're a long way from this Onion video proving prescient: