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Rise of the Machines


By Nanook - Posted on 20 October 2010

Will humans be taken over by robots

[ Nanook is talking to George. Nanook is italic type.]

"OK, let me ask you a completely different question. Do you think the human race will ever be taken over by robots?"

Factors that affect evolution

"Well, I don’t know if it will be robots. But I don’t think you should count on humans being here too much longer. The rate of evolution of a life form depends on a number of things. One is the reproduction period. For example, fruit flies are used in genetic experiments because their life span is short. Given that there are always biological mutations ready to occur, with short life cycles, it only takes a short time to see the result and see how that mutation moves into the next generation. Another factor is just how large the mutations are. Longer legs are one thing. But growing additional legs is quite another. Another factor is the environment. The environment creates the challenge that the mutations are tested against.

Timescale of evolutionary stress selects size of mutations

In the past, the environment was controlled by large scale natural forces like geology and weather. These forces typically take a long time to change. If an ice age occurred, it took thousands of years. That gave life forms a lot of time to move and adjust. Such a slow process favors small mutations. That is, if a life form has adjusted to be optimal for a specific environment, and a small change occurs, only small mutations are needed to maintain that optimum balance. Furthermore, since only small changes are going on, the new generations look and act pretty much like the earlier ones.

If a big mutation comes along, meaning a very different life form appears, and that mutation gives the new life form substantial advantages, then a big shift occurs. The new life form replaces the old, and it is clearly distinct from the old. If a big change in the environment occurs quickly, big natural mutations that fit the new environment will have a big advantage.

This is what will happen with Cognitive evolution. Our ability to rapidly change the environment will apply huge stresses to the human species. Large mutations will be favored. Modern medicine and chemistry will also cause huge mutations to enter the genome pool. This will be especially so if our culture establishes a ‘right to life’ model that tries to keep alive every new creature that is born from a human. Do you understand these examples?”

"Sure."

"How would you compare the timescales between Biological and Cognitive evolution?”

"Wow??? It’s easy to just say the difference would be large. But that would be a huge understatement. I mean, Biological evolution, to go from one distinct species to another, typically could take 100,000 years. Looking at how fast our technology base is growing, Cognitive evolution could probably do the same job in 100 years."

Social Evolution – Social Critical Mass

"Exactly. And just to amplify this comparison, let me bring up another term I used briefly before. Cognitive evolution I used to describe what happens to humans one at a time. There is also the new issue of SOCIAL EVOLUTION. As our communication tools explode, based on electronic communications, the cultures of the world will be thrown together. To me, this is analogous to packing nuclear fuel together. Communication is a process of passing information from one person to another. But people don’t just keep information to themselves. They pass it on to others. So, just like in nuclear fuels, the rate and form of the process depends on how quickly each communication triggers the next communication and the number of new people that are given the new message. Up to some density, the messages just wander along but eventually die out. But once a SOCIAL CRITICAL MASS is reached, the number of messages would increases so rapidly that it would appear like an explosion. I think the world is very close to this. Right now, communication is still slow and expensive. Once this changes, social evolution will explode. And by explode, I’m talking about fundamental social customs undergoing rapid and radical change. The power structures in the world won’t know what hit them. And these kind of changes could occur on timescales as short as 5 or 10 years.”

Picture phone expansion

"Funny. Bill and I were talking about that. I told him about an idea I had that would greatly expand the use of the picture phone. That is, it would not only be used for people to look at each other while they were talking, but they could also use it to send instant messages or get instant reference material."

"Hmmm . . . tell me a little more.”

"OK. Well, first off, I’d use it way different than the current use. For example, the first thing I’d do is use it as an alternative to paper mail."

“You mean, instead of sending a letter, a person would hold the letter up to the camera and the person on the other end would read it. Why wouldn’t the first person just read it? Or why wouldn’t they just say what they were going to write?”

"That’s funny. That’s exactly what Bill said. No, that’s not how it would be used. First off, people wouldn’t write their letters on paper. They’d use a keyboard attached to the phone to type in letters that would appear on the screen – like an electronic typewriter. Second, the message would not be sent directly to the other person. It would be sent to their phone number. But it would really be stored at the phone company. Then, at convenient times, people would check on their "phone mail". All the messages that were sent to them up to that time would be transmitted to their phones and they could read them on their screens.

“Wow. And mail sent this way would get there in seconds rather than days.”

"Hmmm. That’s exactly what Bill said. But there’s more. Let’s say you wanted to look at a mail order catalog from a company. What if they took photos of all the pages and stored them in a library. You would call the free 800 catalog number and it would send you a photo of the catalog index. If you then key in a page number, in a few seconds, you get another page to look at. If you find something you want to order, you just do it right then on the phone. Does that make sense?"

“Make sense. This is incredible. So, why couldn’t people do the same thing with a library? Or how about books directly from a publisher so they wouldn’t have too ship all that paper around? Do you have any idea how major this could become?”

"Hmmm. That’s exactly what Bill said."

"No, I don’t think you have a clue what this could do. There have been a number of ‘futurist’ authors lately that are talking about our society transitioning into an information culture. Have you read anything like that?”

"No. I don’t think so."

"OK. But you can understand what this might mean, right?”

"Sure. As automation continues to grow, humans will have less to do to obtain the basics of life. So, they will switch to things like entertainment - books, movies, TV shows - and probably news, weather and stuff like that."

"Exactly! But now let your mind run off to the consequences. Automation, competition and new technology will drastically drive the costs of producing information down. Information will become a commodity. Many new businesses will be formed to create and handle just information.  The term “information society” will enter everyday speech.  But this will become a true paradigm shift. It will connect common people all over the globe together. But MOST people won’t be able to envision how big the shift is going to be. I mean, this could be bigger than the printing press.  So, when most people think about it and talk about it, including the heads of industry and government and even the news media, who are mostly A2 thinkers, they will greatly underestimate what is going to happen.  The best that they will be able to do is describe the new emerging culture using simple extensions of the old culture.  The world will also begin by implementing the new culture as simple extensions of our old culture.  This will cause a lot of confusion and inefficiency.”

"You’re making this sound a lot bigger than I imagined, that’s for sure."

“Sure. Just think about it. The availability of standard knowledge, like maps, dictionaries, encyclopedias, indexes etc. will essentially become free.  That means industry will have to find a way to provide this information, at almost no cost, while still obtaining revenue in some other way.  Most business people have never even imagined a model for this.”

"You’re right. I never even thought about any of this."

"Wait. I’m just getting going. Why not put all the school classes on this system? Schools are the biggest waste of time. It’s the same information repeated over and over again. Why not let the computers teach the classes. People should have free access to language courses. Again, any information that only has to be produced once should become practically free.”

"I hear you. It’s just more than I can comprehend all at once."

"And the big tragedy will be that our leaders will not be able to comprehend this either. So, they will do what people in power do when they can’t comprehend things: THEY WILL TRY TO SLOW EVERYTHING DOWN TO KEEP CONTROL OF IT. This means government, education, industry, all acting as roadblocks. But people won’t put up with that. Things are going to get ugly. Have you talked to Ben about this?”

"What? Talked to Ben? No. I haven’t seen Ben since last week."

"Make sure you bring this up the next time you talk to him. This is a discovery the other countries could easily stumble across before we do. NOT GOOD.”

"But that’s what I tried to tell Bill."

"And I’m sure he told you to just write it up and put it in your personal files somewhere, right?”

"Yeah! That’s exactly what he said. I don’t get it."

The importance of Standing to be heard

"Unfortunately, Bill’s right about that. If a person doesn’t have the right STANDING in our society, that is the right credentials, to present an idea to people at the right level of power, at a time when they are primed to accept it, they are just wasting their time. It doesn’t matter how significant the information they have is. The tragedy this brings the world is staggering. In this case, Ben may be your best shot.”

"What? Why is he so important."

"I really can’t go into that. Just trust me. Wow. This is absolutely amazing.”

Machines as a life form

"But all this does is put additional emphasis on how fast our species can change. Wow. So, now, let’s get back to your earlier question about robots. Before we focus just on robots, I think we have to look at the whole concept of machines. I read a statement from George Dyson in his book Darwin Among the Machines. He said, "In the game of life and evolution there are THREE players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines.” This is a bold statement. While society just looks at machines like tools for humans to use, I think its possible to consider the whole concept of MACHINES AS A NEW LIFE FORM. Once computers become powerful enough, they will surely learn to think. When this happens, there will be evolutionary competition between them and every other form of life. The winner will depend on which life form has the best fit, not just biologically, but in all the evolutionary categories. Does that make sense?”

"Wow. Sure. Machines will have to compete with humans in Cognitive evolution. They can gain advantages over us by becoming smarter than we are. But they will also have to compete in Social evolution as well and still have to compete with plants and animals. But if they can effectively do this, they will also be able to dominate all of these."

"Exactly. But they don’t even have to win on all accounts. They don’t actually have to be smarter than humans. All they need to do is figure out how to live and reproduce on a small scale.

But grabbing and holding a place in evolution is not just a problem for the machines. Every other life form will have to compete in all of these evolutionary realms as well. And as we humans are frequently and horrifically reminded by things like plagues, the old biological realm is not just going to roll over and give up.

Robots as inferior form factor – machine advantages

As for robots, I think you are being greatly misled. I sense human arrogance at work here. This seems to me to be just one more case of trying to create God in the image and likeness of man, so that man can believe he is special. If I were a machine, I DON’T THINK I’D MAKE MYSELF IN THE FORM OF A HUMAN, that’s for sure. So, if machines are ever able to achieve the necessary evolutionary traits: ability to get fuel from the environment, to get rid of processing wastes, to modify the environment to improve their own advantage and to reproduce, then humans will quickly become a lower life form.”

"How do you mean that? What makes machines so superior?"

"First off, they will be able to build themselves in multiple shapes. Each shape would be optimized for a different function. Some would walk around on earth like land creatures. But others could fly and others could travel on or under water. They can be as small as a mouse or as large as a whale. Or, in fact, they can be as large as whole cities; maybe bigger.

Machines are quickly replacing the need for human senses to help them. Horses and buggies used to depend on the human eyes and ears of drivers to communicate. Now this is done electronically with radar and radio communications. And the machines can communicate a million times faster than humans.

Second, they would be essentially immortal. As parts wore out, those parts could easily be replaced. Third, they would be infinitely adaptable. As they learned new technology, say for a better arm, they could remove old ones and install new ones.”

"Wow! Wow! WOW! This is incredible. I never thought about this. Wow! What you’re saying is that the whole idea of the robot shape is really misleading. Arrogance is right. But don’t you think a human shape might be the first form they would take?"

"It’s hard to tell. We are talking about evolution. Maybe the best strategy is for machines to take our form and try to make friends with us. But maybe it’s more clever for them to let us think they are our tools. But, in either case, I think the endpoint is inevitable.

Assume we continue to develop intelligent machines. Eventually, the machines will be so capable that they will be able to do almost everything better than humans. In that case, almost all activities that we now call work will be done by machines and no human effort will be necessary. The big question then is: who’s in control? Will the machines be allowed to make all of their own decisions without human oversight, or will humans still retain control over the machines?

If the machines are allowed to make all the decisions, I don’t think we, today, can begin to guess the results. At that point, the fate of the human race would be in the hands of the machines and the evolution of their moral judgment.

You might argue that the human race would never be foolish enough to hand over all the power to the machines. BUT, would we in fact, have a choice? Sure, humans would never voluntarily turn power over to the machines. But what would most surely happen is that each of us, step by step, would unconsciously allow each part of our life to become dependent on the machines. We would be transported by cars, communicate with phones, maintain our lives with washers, dryers and vacuums; get information from radio’s and TVs and control our environment with thermostats. As society becomes more and more complex, and each machine becomes more and more intelligent, people will let the machines make most of their decisions for them.

Eventually, we will reach a point of no return. The decisions necessary to keep society running efficiently will become so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them. At that stage the machines will effectively be in control, because we won't be able to turn them off without incurring major suffering. And if they are in control, the question will become, why do they need humans?”

"But, we don’t have to give every decision to the machines. Sure, let them control the temperature of our houses to save energy or something. But we don’t have to let them control military strategy or the menus for the food we eat."

“That’s a good point. So, let’s say humans do reserve some controls. But, even in that case, the control over the major systems that run the world will be in the hands of a few elite individuals - just as they are today. But there are two big differences. Because of the ability to centralize control, the elite will have greater and faster control than they do now. Second, because human work will no longer be necessary, most humans will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system. So we wind up at the same point. Why are humans needed? What would prevent the elite from getting rid of humanity and keeping the world to themselves?”

"When I first came to Alaska, I would have two simple answers. One, that God would not let that happen. Two, that people wouldn’t let that happen. But now, I’m not sure about either answer. Father Vincent has pretty much convinced me that God has gone ‘hands-off’ in the natural universe. Second, that the Seven Deadly Sins rule human nature from the desperate masses at the bottom to those who rule the roosts of the rich and powerful. So, while I don’t like where you ended up, I can’t refute your conclusion."

“And please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not in favor of this outcome. It just has some strong logic behind it. And while I don’t have enough background to describe, technically, how this might go, I do have some idea about how the thinking functions might evolve.”

Machine intelligence

"I think machines will follow an intellectual evolution path that is similar to what biological life did. That is, as machines become complex, they will develop the 3 brain structures. You know quite a bit about computers. Do you see any parallels in computers to the 3 brains?”

"Hmmm . . . Actually, I see a lot! Humans need air, shelter, water, sleep, food. Hulk drives the body to get these. Similarly, computers need cooling, memory refresh cycles and electricity. They have systems to provide these like fans, refresh controllers and power supplies. A pretty basic set of circuits controls each of these functions. And like Hulk, if the processor temperature gets too high, either extra fans start running or the processor speed is reduced. If the power get’s weird, as in a low battery condition, the memory is stored and the computer is put to sleep. These functions take precedent over what ever ‘thinking’ process is running."

"So, the computer functions are primitive right now, but they have similar functions.”

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[ To be continued. ]