The Robots Are Coming – Part III

The Basic Laws?

The popular 20th century science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, formulated his three laws after burning the midnight oil with a fellow enthusiast over a period of years. He only articulated them in 1942 in “I Robot”, well before the idea of AGI-controlled robots was anything more than the concept of machines using a very advanced computer program. Most people familiar with Sci-fi ventures into robotics will be very familiar with Asimov’s laws:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.[1]

(He went on to introduce a ‘zeroth’ law as his robotic adventures progressed. Others have added at least another two.)

Ethics

Science fiction laws are one thing; real ethics are something else and obtaining international agreement in some yet to be decided United Nations forum will not be easy. Defining ethical protocols for AI/AGI will take years of discussion with a very wide range of participants. Even that range itself will cause hotly debated argument, as everyone with any kind of interest in what is and is not ethical tries to get in on the act.

Laws have the huge drawback that they may be interpreted by some future advanced AGI system (or even judges with weird ideas of legal interpretation on human rights, as we know to our cost) as requiring it to treat its human sponsors as pets or children, reducing their scope for free will to what it considers to be safe. It could choose to act on the orders of its sponsor only if they do not conflict with its own interpretation of what is safe. By the third law, we couldn’t switch it off. We would become like plants in a well-tended garden. For the couch potatoes of this world that might not be an unattractive proposition but for anyone with any worthwhile valuation of modern man’s many legally prescribed rights it should be anathema.

Sci-fi writers, of course, can make anything happen in their books. Once the androids are really out there it may be too late to say “Sorry, I didn’t think it could do that.”

Development of AGI

Studies into AI/AGI and its implications are being carried out at individual government levels throughout advanced societies but so far there is no international movement to reach agreement on ethical protocols designed to prevent the feared robot takeover. If there is, it is playing its cards very close to its chest. International conferences are taking place, sponsored by all the right people, according to internet sources, but their emphasis is on the nuts and bolts of producing specific AIs to achieve limited objectives, not on the ethics behind that achievement.

So far there is no movement towards legalising procedures and protocols at international level. If this doesn’t happen soon, it may be too late to enforce proper ethical constraints on developers who choose to give no thought to any moral framework. There are already robotic drones flying vast distances around the world perfectly capable of locating their victims and acting on human instructions to assassinate them, with apparently no concern for collateral damage to persons or property. Law one up the spout!

Currently AGI is literally in its infancy: it can barely crawl. New DNA-based memory or holographic memory technology will very soon have it moving out of the kindergarten into junior school and on to secondary education. From there it is but a small step on this exponential curve of development to the first degree, the doctorate, the ultimate expert. Human geniuses have nothing on the supercomputers of the not too distant future.

An advanced AGI controlled supercomputer will be able to access in nanoseconds almost any published database in the world to find the most up-to-the-split-second information to enable it to carry out whatever task it has been set. It will be able to compare conflicting theories and decide for itself which are correct. Thereafter its only constraint on performance will be the actuality of its physical abilities.

Who can doubt that scientists – unless strictly forbidden – will wish to give their AGI-inventions the same physical capabilities as human beings, enhanced to enable them to do things our own physical weakness will not allow us to do for ourselves? Already AI-controlled ‘surgeons’ have that sort of improved acuity – no shaky hands, effectively magnified vision, no memory lapses, no swabs left in body cavities, no faulty sutures, no heavy breathing to carry infection. Super battlefield soldiers are way beyond the feasibility study stage.

Computing Power

Modern supercomputer design mimics brain architecture using myriad paths to access information stored in memory that is no longer one-dimensional. The old idea of communication by a single direct line is long dead. Networking is here to stay.

The speed of computers has increased exponentially in recent years, leading to advances in capability that were inconceivable only a few years ago. The new breed of supercomputers will be able to ‘think outside the box’ far better than humans can. They will be able to ‘brainstorm’ their ideas faster and more constructively than human think tanks. Their ‘ideas’ will come fully analysed, with every advantage and disadvantage carefully weighed, so that feasibility can be in little doubt. That the speed of the advance to such capability will continue can hardly be doubted, as every known branch of science moves into areas so far beyond what was once considered as conventional research that wholly new conceptions of where science is taking us and how world society will develop need to be addressed. It is only a matter of time before supercomputer technology moves from large temperature-controlled laboratories to brainbox sized ‘personal environments’, capable of running at body temperature.

Currently, supercomputers need vast amounts of electrical energy to power them. Power source design is a #1 priority. Who can doubt that necessity will drive human ingenuity to devise a solution that doesn’t rely on massive nuclear fission or fusion installations.

Will all this bring the development of robots with ‘free will’ as we understand it? Could such robots decide not to obey protocols that limit their performance? Do we have to wait for the real-life Doctors Frankenstein and Strangelove to get their heads together?

It is time for the debate.

 

The Robots Are Coming – Part II

Introduction

Some people really do think robots will take over unless world authorities move to define the rules that govern their creation. Scientists and robotics engineers are already selling intelligent machines cleverer than most people. Some single-task robots are already considerably better than ordinary human beings at reproducing consistent, accurate results in specific areas. Examples include chess programs that will defeat all but the cleverest masters, ping pong playing helibots can out-perform all but the top players; even the best surgeons already use robotic machines to carry out more delicate operations, where human error means life-threatening consequences. Indeed, many surgeons say that all operations will be carried out robotically in the not too distant future, because of the litigious nature of their patients.

Self diagnosis machines for the doctor’s waiting room that can accurately tell you exactly what’s wrong with you have been feasible for many years. GPs won’t give them the go ahead and hypochondriacs won’t trust them. However, the fact is they are far less likely to make a disastrous misdiagnosis than your average distracted GP. What is more, they have time to ask you all the right questions and won’t forget any, because you’ve had your ten minutes-worth.

Appearance

People tend to think of ‘real’ robots as looking like us, in much the same way and for the same reasons that they consider life manifests itself in forms familiar to us in our everyday life or, at worst, in our nightmares. Claims by scientists that mould is a life form worth looking for are popularly deemed geekish gobbledegook. Expectations are that one day intelligent robots will exist and be indistinguishable from real human beings – true androids in the human cast – the Data syndrome. Star Trek was, of course, beaten to the draw by at least forty years by Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots and others but the underlying concept of intelligent robots that threaten takeover (e.g. Data’s brother) is there and won’t go away.

The idea that ‘real’ robots must look like humans is not unreasonable considering cultural teaching that human beings are superior to all other life forms on earth, a belief deep-rooted in the human psyche. The concept of humanoid robots does need to be revisited before time runs out and they become a feature of our daily lives.

More that 3,000 years ago the ancient world knew their nearest concept to a robot – a slave (what else?) – could not be allowed to retain the appearance of a free person. Slaves were branded where the brand could be seen (not just so that they could be identified if they ran away). They were treated as non-persons and their lives were at the disposal of their owners. Yes, people knew long ago that attractive (or even personable) slaves posed a threat to free men and women and (to adopt the modern jargon) to vulnerable people who trusted them with their care.

A recent ethics study in Great Britain came to the conclusion that robots must be made/created so as to be easily distinguishable from humans. The argument behind this is that human beings can and do form attachments to machines, so that a robotic android with human characteristics indistinguishable from those of a human might truly claim the affections of its owner, causing distress to others and psychological harm to the dependent user. It also concluded that robots should not be created to undertake human care tasks that might leave vulnerable people at risk. So what’s new?

Machines equipped with truly advanced Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), as opposed to single-task Artificial Intelligence (AI), will relatively soon be perfectly capable of designing and maintaining themselves. Their continuously evolving ideas of beauty, strength and moral values may not be the same as their originators’. Azimov’s set of three rules that basically will not allow robots to harm their creators will need to be laid down in a far more legalistic set of protocols and properly enacted in courts worldwide.

Will the robot designers (creators?) stop at producing machines or will they go for humanoid robots? I believe If they can, they will, unless someone stops them. Who is that someone and would they be right to do so?

The Robots Are Coming – Part I

We use body language (consciously or subconsciously) to predict what others are going to do or say. Many animals can ‘read’ us very well. Conmen make a science of it. It is a skill that can be taught. Some maintain this ability, combined with a little basic common sense is behind popular belief in the existence of telepathy. Many believe it is a gift some people can harness for good or ill – the supersense of witches and wizards, of shamans, witchdoctors and charlatans.

There exist documented examples of mind reading at a distance that cannot possibly result from input from body language. In everyday life most people can find examples a-plenty of sensing something is not right with a friend or relation a long way away. Somehow we are in touch and we cannot explain how. “It’s just a coincidence” is the usual put-down by sceptics. In the case of pets: “They know you’re habits so well, of course they know when you should be coming home,” is the usual explanation of how the dog knows when it’s time to go to the window to wait for dad. No one cares to explain why the dog doesn’t do that every day as a matter of routine. Pets do know when dad is not coming.

If we can harness this ‘gift’ using just our limited, much degraded five senses, how long will it be before supercomputers can do so better than your average conman, using modern sensors that outperform our feeble capabilies?

What if advancing neuro-science uncovers the existence of superfast communication within our brains? Scientists have already demonstrated that ‘entangled’ particles can communicate instantaneously over distance, making a mockery of the belief that all communication is limited to the speed of light. Why should such particles not exist in the brain? Could it be that humans have simply lost the ability to harness this form of communication, seemingly so well-developed in some animals? Could the entanglement theory be at the heart of the working of our ‘gut reactions’ that have for some time been shown to be the result of a second brain (the Enteric Nervous System {ENS}) located in our stomach walls. Without the input of our external senses, the ENS reaches conclusions faster than our logical head-based brain and can do so even if one of its supposed paths to the Central Nervous System is severed?

Very recently a team of researchers proved that crude telepathy over distance can be reproduced by hooking up test subjects to a transcranial Magnetic Pulse Stimulator (tMPS), a similar device to that used by my fictional team in Think Freedom (the transcranial Direct Current Stimulator (tDCS) – an actual device used in the treatment of sufferers from depression and marksmen to improve their sharpshooting skills).

 

Consciousness – The Dawn of a New Religion?

SINCE DISCOVERING FOR myself the weirdness of quantum mechanics and the increasing difficulty physicists are having in explaining their evermore ‘weird’ theories of everything without descending into semi religious themes, I begin to wonder just how much longer it will be before one or other of them really does go nuts.

It would seem there is a strong move away from the conventional ‘mechanistic materialism’ behind the physics of the universe. Particle physicists cannot agree on what happens at the quantum level of particle behaviour. Are the quarks, muons, bosons and all the other quantum level particles there or aren’t they? If you observe them they behave as particles. If you don’t they behave as electromagnetic waves. Is ‘entanglement’ a far more common feature of these particles than previously thought? Do more ‘twinned’ particles exist that can communicate with each other across the universe instantaneously? Is it possible that information can be transmitted faster than the speed of light? Can what I know be exactly the same as what you – my telepathic twin – know without some electromagnetic speed limit getting in the way? Do dark matter and its counterpart dark energy exist? If so, what are they? Do they really compose some threequarters of the substance of the universe?

What started out for me as a mild curiosity about a theory that called itself ‘biocentrism’ that has been around for three or four years has morphed into a romp through a whole ‘new’ way of looking at consciousness that has adopted the name of non-dualism. This philosophy links its definition of consciousness to the theory of everything in a very different metaphysical way via Buddhist and/or Hindu meditational beliefs and practices, quoting the Mahayana/Vedanta and the great Yogis/Maharishis that have expounded on their beliefs over hundreds of years.

Far be it from someone as ignorant of eastern religions as me to pour scorn on the beliefs of highly educated men and women – some holding university chairs in complex scientific subjects such as particle physics, neuropsychology and advanced stem cell development – but their claims that the mathematicians and particle physicists have gone as far as they can go in slicing up (or down) matter into its smallest parts are way beyond the boundaries of my simple comprehension.

They posit the theory that the materialist scientists with their blind faith in quantum mechanical mathematics can go no further in their search for a theory of everything without recognising that the only true definitions will be found in acceptance of the existence of an all-pervading, infinite consciousness beyond mankind’s comprehension, a level of consciousness that can only be approached by resorting to extreme meditational exercises as practised by yoga adepts. The non-dualists believe (and it is very much a belief of the religious kind) that the origin of the universe (and, indeed, the infinite multiplicity of universes that follows from their belief) lies in a ‘fizz’ (in the actual words of a prominent microphysicist) of particles like that which produced the ‘Big Bang’ (if, indeed such an event ever occurred).

Personally, I am not prepared to delve into the mysteries of oriental religions, much as I respect their advanced humanity by comparison with the Abrahamic religions evolved in the Middle East. I am no atheist, nor am I a devout theist. However, I do believe that fanatical adhesion to any one religious belief is a recipe for human conflict, with words like ‘blasphemy’ being bandied around to denigrate others who cannot or will not accept a particular interpretation of dogma.

Like one school of oriental religious thought I do believe in the soul or spirit, the ultimate me (Atman?). I do believe that it is something like – not necessarily the same as – the energy that Einstein proved is indestructible with his general theory of relativity, with the beautiful simplicity of its defining expression, e=mc2. While I do not accept that I will be reincarnated as a being deserving of a new life reflecting my behaviour in this one, I do believe that there will always be a consciousness – a soul – that will essentially be a continuation of me. (Here my belief parts company with anything I was taught in Sunday school.) I may not have any recollection of what this life is all about. I don’t know whether I will come back as a poisonous microbe or a brain surgeon. Will I even come back to an awareness of self in this universe or some other parallel one with dimensions I cannot experience in this one? Who knows?

There is evidence – refuted by most neuroscientists and advanced psychology practitioners – that human beings can and do reincarnate with memories of their former existence. Rare cases have been investigated using modern research techniques and documented where children barely out of nappies and only just able to talk can recollect facts from a previous lifetime that cannot possibly be explained in any other way. It is said that such memories tend not to last beyond early childhood, which is probably why more cases have not been recorded. Certainly, this gels with Buddhist beliefs in reincarnation.

Whether or not reincarnation can be proven, belief in an afterlife seems to be fundamental to the mental well-being of most human beings no matter what their cultural background. It takes a peculiar form of bloody-mindedness to be an atheist, someone who believes that death is the end of all things – when your brain dies that’s it, there’s nothing else – nix, zilch. You will never see another sunrise; you will never smell another flower, taste another sweet; you will never perceive of beauty; you will never experience love.

“What dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil?”

It will be interesting to see what comes of this debate between the materialists and the dualists or non-dualists. As one protagonist of the latter said in a recent gathering of like-minded people (Rupert Spira in a U-Tube lecture on non-duality), we stand on the threshold of a major change in scientific knowledge, a change as profound as that in the mid 16th century, when Copernicus expounded his (then) heretical theory that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, that it circled round the Sun and not vice versa.

We know from history what changes that brought about in the world, slowly at first, then accelerating to where we are now, where technological and scientific development in all disciplines has reached exponential levels. What will that change be? Will it be something wholly revolutionary or are we on the verge of a return to a belief in a force (The Force?) that cannot be comprehended by ordinary man? Is this new acceptance of a Consciousness that is beyond comprehension, beyond even the most erudite scientists to define, because it is unknowable, going to become the new age religion, with its own ‘priesthood’ with all that portends?

Those of us who are not into philosophy will need some sort of moral guidance from those who are. I do not have the time or inclination to go back to school and learn a new religion and a new code of living. I am perfectly happy with my own interpretation of the teachings of Jesus Christ unfettered by the religious dogma imposed by any branch of Catholicism or Protestantism. I do not ‘know’ the bible backwards and have no ambition to do so. I know the bits I like and what I have taken away with me as I’ve progressed through life. I like the familiarity of some church services, the hymns I grew up with. I don’t like the changes that have been introduced in the general dumbing down of teaching to accommodate every relaxation in moral standards. Not being a religious fanatic I would not dream of imposing my beliefs on anyone else. They are my own distillation of my own experience and I’m comfortable with them.

Nevertheless, I would like to know where these guys are expecting to take us.

THE RUTILIUS JOURNALS

 

 

They don’t feature amongst the world’s best sellers but quite few people around the world have actually read them, would you believe! They are not the easiest assignment for a quiet evening, I have to admit. Mention Julius Caesar to the average bloke and responses vary from: ‘Yuk!’ to ‘Not my cup of tea!’ to ‘Who?’, although some will admit to having enjoyed the spicier bits of the TV series ‘Rome’. Those who claim to have read their Shakespeare may even come up with the odd quote: “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him,” being perhaps one of the better known, placed in the mouth of Mark Antony – the lucky guy, who ran off with Cleopatra.

Most people only know Caesar as the Roman General who became dictator of Rome and was murdered by Brutus and his pals a few years later (‘Et tu, Brute’ – or ‘Ouch, you brute’ as we boys would have it!) For the next four or five hundred years the Emperors of Rome called themselves Caesar after him, and the titles Tsar and Kaiser echo his name. But the Roman Empire as ruled by his successors was definitely not what Julius Caesar wanted to see. It was the brainchild of his adopted son, Octavian, who re-invented himself as the Emperor Augustus.

Julius Caesar believed in equality a couple of thousand years before its time. He wanted the Empire run by men (sorry Ladies, he wasn’t that far ahead of his time) from every walk of life who could prove their worth. In other words, he believed in merit, not privilege. He wanted to reform the government of Rome from one run by obscenely rich nobles (mostly upper class patricians like himself) to one run by men of real ability. He even wanted the best men from the provinces to take part and stand for election to the Senate in Rome itself. Doesn’t sound much like what followed, does it?

It took me 17 years to write my story, because I thought it was time Caesar got a bit of good publicity. I was introduced to him at the Harvey Grammar School in Folkestone, where I ‘did’ Latin from 12- to 18-years old. We had to study Caesar’s books on the Gallic Wars in the original for O Level. We only studied the bits examiners thought were tricky, so I never did read all eight books on his wars that took him from modern Switzerland, through most of France, Belgium, bits of Germany and even to Engand’s shores (twice).

I wrote the books in two-year episodes from 60 BC to 50 BC and self-published them between 2006 and 2009, although I started work on the first couple of books in 1993-4 and got distracted by having to earn a living in between. I wanted to re-tell Caesar’s story, using his own version of events through the eyes of a modern man, Caesar’s Tribune (the title of the first book). It is not a dry-as-dust history. It’s a mix of fact and fiction, sticking as close to the facts as possible. There’s a love story in there somewhere and a fair bit of background that Caesar never explained, because his target readership knew it.

I have edited the five ‘journals’ down into a single volume entitled ‘Caesar’s Tribune – The Whole Story’. All the books are available through Amazon and on Kindle at a much more modest price.