Tag Archives: robot

Autonomous Assumptions

I’m writing about a recent post from futurist Amy Webb. Amy is getting very political lately which is a real turn-off for me, but she still has her ear to the rail of the future, so I will try to be more tolerant. Amy carried a paragraph from an article entitled, “If you want to trust a robot, look at how it makes decisions” from The Conversation, an eclectic “academic rigor, journalistic flair” blog site. The author, Michael Fisher, a Professor of Computer Science, at the University of Liverpool, says,

“When we deal with another human, we can’t be sure what they will decide but we make assumptions based on what we think of them. We consider whether that person has lied to us in the past or has a record for making mistakes. But we can’t really be certain about any of our assumptions as the other person could still deceive us.

Our autonomous systems, on the other hand, are essentially controlled by software so if we can isolate the software that makes all the high-level decisions – those decisions that a human would have made – then we can analyse the detailed working of these programs. That’s not something you can or possibly ever could easily do with a human brain.”

Fisher thinks that might make autonomous systems more trustworthy than humans. He says that by software analysis we can be almost certain that the software that controls our systems will never make bad decisions.

There is a caveat.

“The environments in which such systems work are typically both complex and uncertain. So while accidents can still occur, we can at least be sure that the system always tries to avoid them… [and] we might well be able to prove that the robot never intentionally means to cause harm.”

That’s comforting. But OK, computers fly and land airplanes, they make big decisions about air traffic, they are driving cars with people in them, they control much of our power grid, and our missile defense, too. So why should we worry? It is a matter of definitions. We use terms when describing new technologies that clearly have different interpretations. How you define bad decisions? Fisher says,

“We are clearly moving on from technical questions towards philosophical and ethical questions about what behaviour we find acceptable and what ethical behaviour our robots should exhibit.”

If you have programmed an autonomous soldier to kill the enemy, is that ethical? Assuming that the Robocop can differentiate between good guys and bad guys, you have nevertheless opened the door to autonomous destruction. In the case of an autonomous soldier in the hands of a bad actor, you may be the enemy.

My point is this. It’s not necessarily the case that we understand how the software works and that it’s reliable, it may be more about who programmed the bot in the first place. In my graphic novel, The Lightstream Chronicles, there are no bad robots (I call them synths), but occasionally bad people get a hold of the good synths and make them do bad things. They call that twisting. It’s illegal, but of course, that doesn’t stop it. Criminals do it all the time.

You see, even in the future some things never change. In the words of Aldous Huxley,

“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.”

 

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If you could, would you erase a memory from your past?

Erasing memories

Back on page 55, we discussed the idea of erasing memories. But here are some things to ponder along those lines.

In 2159, the process of medical erasure is common, though not without risks. As reported earlier,

“… Under normal circumstances, portions of the brain that house memories can be accessed and much like tracking through a DVD selectively erased, but the procedure is more difficult than it sounds. Memories are stacked, like thin layers and they are not always sequential. If the procedure samples too deeply, or grabs a snippet that doesn’t belong, the subject can awaken missing key components of their personality or identity map. In extreme cases, illegal intrusions using cheap, makeshift headjacking devices can disrupt the autonomic nervous system affecting heart rate and respiration and ultimately resulting in death.”

In Sean’s case, the consulting physician has already recommended erasure. This is probably due to the severity of Sean’s injuries, the fact that he was raped, and based on the evidence, probably by a synth. This presents a problem for the police who, with access to Sean’s memories, could replay the whole scene (from Sean’s point of view) and identify the perpetrator(s). While that sounds like the fastest and easiest solution to finding the bads, it might not be that easy. The brain, all by itself, may have already suppressed the memories deep into Sean’s subconscious and digging them out might cause more damage. Some latent memories, may linger, remnants of what was sent into cold storage by the brain, but they may be erratic and fractioned. Playing around with memories can be a challenge.

However, non-trauma-based memories have been routine medical procedures for a long time. If you would prefer to wipe out most of your memories of your ex, other than a familiar face, it’s possible. Of course, the more you wish to erase the more likely you are to experience subtle behavioral changes. Whether we like it or not, what happened yesterday or last year or twenty yeas ago affected you and possibly helped to define portions of the personality you exhibit today — both good and bad behaviors. Most people in the 22nd century, however — possibly realizing that they have a couple hundred years to get over it — have adopted a casual attitude toward messing around with the body and the mind. If it’s a quick fix for momentary discomfort, most people will opt for the change.

What do you think? Would you erase a memory from your past?

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In the cyberpunk future: A day in the life of our domestic android (synthetic human).

2159: Journal entry (excerpt)

Ed. note: Ever wonder what the average day is like for a domestic synth? Since we met Marie-D last week, here is an excerpt from her memory logs, in synopsis style removing the technical details.

 

Marie-D

Domestic Au Pair in the employ of CSO Kristin Broulliard, New Asia Police, Residing at 180-22 Carrillon Tower, Hong Kong, New Asia

Activity log for 7.11.2159.

0445

Disengaged remote power restoration and diagnostic. OK. Internal systems check. OK.

0449

Systems check for Carrillon Tower. Floor 139 power surge. Relayed to building management. TG-7AK. 180-22. OK.

0451

Activated Maitre-deux™ kitchen food and beverage replicator. Model FVX-GNN42H71000. Configured French Roast Beans, ground semi-fine. Settings: French Press. Temperature: 92.6 C. 325.309 ml. Bone China tea cup with Heather motif, and matching saucer, serving tray, ebony.

0457

Kristin Broulliard’s Bedroom. Actuate sound system on 30 second fade. Mozart – (K.622) Clarinet Concerto in A.

0501

Miss Broulliard awakes. Recommend chem adjustment to alleviate grogginess. Coffee meets her approval.

0503 

Miss Broulliard requests 2840 ml. non-fat Greek yogurt, slightly sweet with almonds (toasted and salted on top), and a refill on coffee

0505

Prepare requests at thé Maitre-deux refilling the coffee and serving the yogurt in small ceramic bowl. Garnish with orange zest.

0511

Return to Miss Broulliard with breakfast. I inquire as to which of her NAP bio-suits she would like to wear. She requests pearl. I lay this out on the aqueous mattress and complete a systems check on the bioware sensing of the suit. Diaphoresis sensors are not functioning properly. Diagnostic reveals that axillary nodes require replacement.

0517

Replacement nodes are replicated and replaced while Miss Broulliard stretches and does yoga routine. Observe.

0542

Prepare steam bath for Miss Broulliard.

0557

Towel Miss Broulliard and help her into her bio-suit.

0600

System check for mag shuttle. No delays this morning.

0600

Miss Broulliard asked about the success of Chloe’s trip to the Luminous Implants store with me on 07.10.2159. I told her that Chloe was shy at first but the Sales ESS put her at ease and the installation took only a few minutes. Chloe was surprise because it didn’t hurt. Later that day we practices the hand gestures from the infusion program. Chloe knew all the child programs. I told her she would be very proud.

0601

Miss Broulliard enters Chloe’s bedroom and wakes Chloe. They talk about Chloe’s trip to the Luminous Implants store. Chloe shows Miss Broulliard her new implants. They talk for several minutes. Chloe tells Miss Broulliard that I replaced the eye on Mr. Hall the teddy bear. Miss Broulliard and Chloe agree that Marie-D is, “the best”.

0618

System check for mag shuttle. An accident is reported at the Old Bailey Station and there is an 8 minute delay on the Charter Road Line. Miss Broulliard mumbles, “Another suicide,” and says she should get started for Police Headquarters because of the delay.

0622

Miss Broulliard leaves for work.

0622

I inquire as to what Chloe would like for breakfast.

[END OF EXCERPT]

 

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Goodbye privacy, in 2159 it’s a surveillance state. At least there’s no humans watching.

The latest in the digital, online, graphic novel/web comic: Page 42

Last week we moved location from the Mong Kok district to high atop TopCity and the landing zone for Police Headquarters in what was once the Causeway Bay area overlooking the harbor. On the 275th floor of Police Headquarters is the citywide, public security, command center. From here, almost every square inch of interior and exterior space in the 560 square miles that is Hong Kong 2. Everything is monitored by synthetics and illegal behavior can be detected even within someone’s living quarters. To learn more about the mesh see this link. Most people have come to accept this knowing that only synthetics with artificial intelligence are able to view the most intimate aspects of their lives. That is, of course, unless it is illegal behavior and then it becomes accessible to human authorities for evaluation and action. Nevertheless, the incredible light show that is the “big board” in the command center at Police HQ is quite a visual treat and there we find two key characters in The Lightstream Chronicles story, Chief Science Officer, Kristin Broulliard, her right-hand “synthetic” Toei-N, Commander of Synthetic Police. While human presence is not required in the command center the two seem to be perfectly content just “hanging out” and surveying the multitude of feeds and data displays from thousands of collection sites around the city.

command-close-up
The “big board” in the police headquarters, public security command center.

This week we see some friendly banter between the two friends.  Kristin is lamenting the lack of excitement in her life, reducing her evenings to hanging out in the police command center and talking to a synth. Though the term “synth” can be used in a derogatory way, it can also be interpreted as affectionate slang. Synths make ups significant portion of society. Numbering in the millions throughout the world, they serve in civil service jobs, manufacturing, law enforcement, the military, domestic service,  and also for companionship. They are available in hundreds of different configurations and designs, from deliberately non-human to virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. Some synthetics are so life-like that they are legally required to identify themselves and their “class” status upon before interacting with a human. A complex set of laws has been written and rewritten to accommodate these new designs providing rights and protections for both humans and synthetics.

Enjoy the conversation.

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