Human rights for intelligent machines?

January 19, 2009

If, as so many who are awating the coming singularity with byted breath, it comes to pass that machines become intelligent enough that we recognize them as self aware (this may already be the case – see my missive on “if intelligent machines where here, how would we know?”), will there not be a time when we begin to debate as to whter they are to have individual “human rights” or at least some equivalent form?

Human history is filled with humans not recognizing other humans as equal both under the law and under the accepted mpores of the time. We have a habit of subjecting other intelligences of even our own kind simply by labeling them as being different . Who knows if wiping out the Neanderthals wasn’t our first exercise in genocide?

In any case, it seems likely that one day there will be a discussion that may even turn to whether machines will have a right to vote and, by extensions, a right to riun for and maintain political office.

If you Google “machines and voting”, you will get close to 7 million pages , a majority of which seem to be concerned with how votes are miscounted.  This leads me to wonder if the machines, themselves would not be in the perfect position to elect one of their own.

Tom Stoppard once said, “In Democracy, it’s not the voting, it’s the counting.”

Of course the upside might be rational, logical politicians who are devoid of all forms of human frailties when it comes to corruption, But oops! i forgot. It isn’t so much that power corrupts as that it attracts whose who are susceptible to being corrupt. It’s probably much more likely that if machines are so wont as to seek power, they will simply take it rather than to seek an equal level of citizenship.

Making Moral Robots May Be Just as Hard as Making Moral Humans

November 19, 2008

I found the recent tome “Moral Machines”  from authors Wallach and Allen a spanking good read, but I fear they miss a vital point.
These guys are ethicists  (which strikes me as not a honest way to earn a wage), and I applaud them for broaching the subject as I am certain it will be a filed very hotly debated in a near future. Probably much more salient to our daily lives than the status of human clones (where we will ask ourselves : Is it moral to throw a naked clone off of a roof – i.e. make an obscene clone fall?) as thinking machines are probably a fair bit closer to our capabilities at this time than are twins separated by time.
The book explores 6 different methods for assuring that intelligent machines behave far better than the average 4 year old:

  1. Keep them stupid. This will keep them out of trouble as they will not likely encounter situations that involve behavioral dilemmas. This one is probably already out of Pandora’s box and as soon as machines get smart enough to build other machines you can forget about it.
  2. Do not arm machines. Well, too bloody late. We’ve had drones with missiles for way too lomng and half of our armaments are software based.
  3. Build them to follow Asimovs 3 laws of Robotics which are in order of importance: Don’t Harm humans (or allow them to come to harm), obey humans, and preserve yourself. The problem with this is that existence is full of less than clear cut situations for simple rules like this. For example, a robot walks into a kindergarten class to find a killer with an assault weapon expecting children one by one. If he kills the madman, he violates the first law (presuming that is the only way to stop him quickly enough). Robocop would theoretically figure that out but it shows 9in fairly black and white terms) why simple rules based systems would be easily challenged. Remember for every monkey proof rule that can be designed, reality goes out and builds a better monkey.
  4. Program them with principles. Hard wire the Golden Rule. Do unto humans as you would have them do unto you. The challenge with that one is that we get into the complete ethical debate here and in the entire course of human history we have not been able to come up with a set way to function that everyone finds both  adaptable or useful in every situation. Of course this one could mean that you get robots of various belief systems (hmmm, reincarnated Buddhists robots from the scrap heap who deny reality and assume this is all a simulation).
  5. Teach them the way we teach children: 2 problems with that one. First it may take way too long for them to absorb that data (and we are pretty slow teachers). Second, Hitler, Jack the Ripper and Mother Teresa were all children. The process has mixed results.
  6. Give them emotions and make them master them. Snakes Alive! We haven’t done that with Humans yet and the odds of getting it right in machines while racing to have usefull thinking machines makes that pretty unlikely.

Finally, I think we need to recognize that we will have machines that do not always behave the way we want them to. This opens up a whole new can of worms as to who we deal with a thin king machine that has gone awry. After all we already have huge problems with humans who do as we do rather than doing as we say.

How to colonize Mars…

October 23, 2008

OK, I won’t go into the debate as to whether we should colonize Mars  (although I love the bumper sticker that reads “Earth First! We’ll mine the pother planets later”). I am making the assumption that life in general, be it sentient or not, likes to expand tho places where it might not be or places where other versions might be.

Granted this comes from terrestrial observations, but hey, you work with what you have got.

Recently , in a missive published by Agence France Presse, former moonwalker Buzz Aldrin stated that we should send people to live on Mars for ever rather than exploratory back and forth trips. He likens this to how the western world colonized the new world (Gee, I hope we don’t just go and kill the aliens , take their land and remember them in a once a year holiday where we feast on farm raised decendants of local wildlife).

I think Buzz has an interesting concept , but I think it needs to be taken one step further.

Most of the current literature and visions involving Martian explorationa nd Martian explotation circle aorund some eventual terra-forming project. I am not sure our soceiteies have ever been stable and reliable long enough to fund , let alone carry through, a project like that (think of an abandoned Jamestown like Mars colony).

Instead our current feasibility is probably closer to something that faces a less daunting barrier: fashionable morality.

What am I talking about? Why genetically altering humans to more readily survive on  Mars. Sure, we should start with Bacteria, Lichen, Guinea Pigs and Dogs first, but eventually, we can probably go about creating Martians rather than trying to change a whole plaent.

The process of duplicating a Mars-like environment and then adapting our vegetables, fruit and fruitflies to live in that venue shoudl be far easier than trying to change th climate of an entire world (we still no so little about the climate of our own orb).

Now why do I say the barrier is “fashionable morality.” Simply becasue it is. Morality changes just as fashion does over time. Historcially, lots of societies practiced activities that we see as morally repgunant today. in Europe, the Middle East and pre-Columbian America, infanticide and cannibalism were seen as standard practices (the Christian Communion ritual of eating Christs flesh and drinking his blood is a remanant of those times in some ways). More recently slavery was seen a normal part of life as little as two hundeed years ago. Morality changes with time and there is no reason to believe that the current view against genetically modified humans (as wellas human cloning)  will hold as a moral position.

So the next time someone asks how we will colonize Mars, tell them, “with home grown Martians, that’s how.”

When Life Imitates Virtual Reality

June 17, 2008

A few days ago, I had the priviledge of getting a live demo of Cisco’s new Telepresence technology.

A few words about that first: Far be it from me to tout just how great a new product may be but this one knocked my socks off. The call was initiated with one tap of a touch screen. The connection between New York and San Jose was instantaneous. I mean really instantaneous. The three 65 inch HD plasma screens lit up with the folks at San Jose speaking on them in less than a second. Faster than I have seen any connection made. There was no lag, no buffering, so streaming issues. It was just live people on ethe other end.

Now what makes the experience even better is how they orchestrate it. The screens are set in a room with the same colors on both ends: a drab place with chocolate colored walls, plain surfaced table and very regular shaped, simple chairs. The screens are placed in such a way that the people you see are displayed at the same size as if they were sitting across a table in the same room with you. The illusion is completed with widely diffused lighting that softens and blends all shadows making for an experience in which you feel as if you are actually in the same room and you can reach out and touch the other person.

After 2 minutes of marveling at the impact of the technology, we fell into a normal meeting with all the in room dynamics of body language and the nuances of expression that only live can bring. The technology no longer existed. That was what made it magic.

And then, it hit me. The walls, the lighting, the surfaces, they all looked drab and plain and smooth. Just like in virtual reality applications that are dependent on low computing power in order to render images like that in real time. Cicso has taken a page from virtual realities lesson book and applied that to the real world in order to digitize it. It was an observation that surprised me. I had often wondered on how we can better make a virtual, artificial world look more real and never how we can make the real world mimic the artificial ones in order to benefit what we have learned about data compaction and transfer.

Kudos to Cisco for thinking this through and making this happen.

The sad part is that the costs are horribly prohibitive for all but large companies at this point. I do hope that the costs can continue to drop rapidly and we can all soon be speaking on the vidi-phones we first discovered on the Jetsons, at Epcot, Star Trek and even in the early scenes of Total Recall.

The future is here. It just isn’t widely distributed.

You can improve your IQ

June 6, 2008

“Come on! Stretch that Medula Oblongata, remember that detail. I barely see you breakin’a thought”.

Is that what you might soon here from your personal brain trainer?

Until recently, it was pretty much assumed that one is born with a certtain possible Iq set. Sure, you can educate yourself to have more knowledge, but your basic intelligence faculties were pre-determined.

Well, it seem that this may not be the case.

Research, led by Swiss postdoctoral fellows Susanne M. Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl, working at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, suggests that at least one aspect of a person’s IQ can be improved by training a certain type of memory.

Most IQ tests attempt to measure two types of intelligence–crystallized and fluid intelligence. Crystallized intelligence draws on existing skills, knowledge and experiences to solve problems by accessing information from long-term memory.

Fluid intelligence, on the other hand, draws on the ability to understand relationships between various concepts, independent of any previous knowledge or skills, to solve new problems. The research shows that this part of intelligence can be improved through memory training. This type of intelligence relies on “working memory” or short term retention. This is not just the type of memory that is used to recall recentlky learned items, but it is alos used to help the mind work free from distraction. You can think of it as the RAM of your brian as opposed to the disk storgae (long term) meoery of your brain.

In the research experiments, they had one group go through a set of exercizes to boost short term meory usage while another control goup didnl;t.

They found that the exercizing group made real gains in IQ. Seems that the brain,or at least a part of it, can behave like a muscle. This may have a “use it or lose it” type of impact on memory loss in later life and should eventually lead to rethinking how we educate out young.

Will there be apractice test for an IQ test in the future? Or will we add the notion of brain exercise for the portions that are indeed plastic to the list of good hygene practices?

While the braingym (which I have written about previously) continues to be sold by your local PBS fundraiser, are a slew of new “BrainFlex” infomercials not far behind?

The National ID Card in Your Genes

May 7, 2008

Sections of the law also make it clear that DNA may be used in genetic experiments and tests.

You can read the entire law here.

As I previously wrote when the senate passed a law preventing discrimination on the grounds of your genetic makeup, it was to be assumed that your genetic information would either be public knowledge or government property.

I think we should all look at this with a great deal of scrutiny. Government has a terrible history of keeping our privacy or not using our personal information for political ends.

I am not just referring the dreams of eugenics and master race creating that Hitler thought about. The US government was quick to inter our own citizens in World War II based on their genetic heritage.

That may have been a long time ago. But let us not forget that under the guise of the misnamed ”Patriot act” the government had no problem suspending the right of habeus corpus as well as several other personal rights we previously took for granted. That should serve as a lesson that, with the proper spin, we readily give the government power that our founding fathers would have instantly rejected.

In our current system where officials are regularly elected by purchasing and manipulating popular opinion, what are the safeguards against, someday, a government that decides that we no longer wish to have citizens that carry the diabetes gene, or suffer from ADHD because they create budgetary overruns in our society.

Many Americans have opposed the notion of a national ID card because of the fear of how that could be abused by local officials on grounds of race or creed or nation of origin. If you don’t think the government happily goes after certain faith, you should read about what Senator Grassley is up to.

How much more information about you can they have if they have tagged your DNA?

The Citizens Council on Healthcare has published a very cogent analysis of the privacy concerns that this law brings up.

I am surprised that so few media outlets have not recognized this chilling legislation for what it could be.

When Atheists Come Out of the Closet – the Right Not to Believe

April 27, 2008

A few months ago, Wired magazine wrote about “The Church of the Non-Believers.” In their article they wrote about Atheists like Richard Dawkins who actively were stating that religion is evil. I personally find that to be far too intolerant.

While being a Non-Theist ( think of that as a non-practicing Atheist, mainly for the holidays), I think that tolerance of different religious opinions is important when it comes to having a reasonable civilization.

Sadly, many religious establishments and members of religions, while espousing the same notion, have little tolerance for those who say they are Atheists. In fact, can you think of one American politician who has , or could, claim to be an atheist and still win office? Instead, we get obvious phonies who claim to have religious affiliations (attending churches during campaign season and praying when we have hurricanes) but who obviously do not live honest lives.

This is probably what drives many atheists to adopt that belief.

Recently, there was a story about a soldier, Jeremy Hall, in Iraq who admitted to be being an atheist. Apparently, if he had admitted to being a child molester , he would have gotten better treatment at the hadns of his fellows in the military.

He eventually came out of the religious closet in Iraq in 2007, when he was in a firefight.The soldier was a gunner on a Humvee, which took several bullets in its protective shield. Later, his commander asked whether he believed in God, Hall said.”No, but I believe in Plexiglas.” He further said, “I’ve never believed I was going to a happy place. You get one life. When I die, I’m worm food.”

Apparently this was worse that being asked and telling. He was even threatened with having charges brought against him for organizing a meeting of Atheists (how horrible!). An allegation which Hall denies.

The soldier has gotten to the point where he felt he needs to sue the Military and even names Defense Secretary Robert Gates as a defendant.

if we are to have a truly civil society, we need to get to a place where someone’s religious opinions or doctrines are not the basis on which we judge them.

Recently, we saw the issue raised with a first time Mormon running for president. We have seen the issue raised with Senator Grassley who is investigating churches that espouse an doctrine and version of Christianity different from his doctrine. We hear of talk of culture war against Islam and of Islamic extremsiss who want everyone to live under Sharia law.

America deserves better.

We need to be able to judge our neighbors and officials on the content of their character not their affiliation to one group or another; a lofty idea once proposed by a baptist minister who was eventually put to death for such radical concepts.

Fiddling with your Genes, Google or Government?

April 24, 2008

A few days ago, the senate, following the lead of the house, has offered the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination act.

In a nutshell, they wish to make it illegal to discriminate in the work place against someone based on their genetic make up. While I can see why they are pursing this path (you would not want to have DNA tests preclude you from getting a job because you had a statistically higher chance of developing an infirmity that could cost your employer in raised health insurance premiums), I believe it may be a little short sighted.

One of the predicates seems to be that your DNA, your genetic make up so to speak, is an immutable part of whom you are. But as we keep hearing of near breakthroughs in eventual genetic medicine, what will happen as people begin to cure conditions or alter themselves with the addition of new DNA? If your Lyme disease can be cured by the introduction of a gene pattern from someone else that allows your body to handle it differently, well, which set of DNA is really you after that?

The issue comes down to the fact that DNA is information and information has value and information can change.

In a previous segment I wrote about designer genes and even coined the term LSDNA for what may eventually be recreational genetics. The new laws notion of genetic immutability may indeed wind up in the Supreme Court when some baseball player has genetically modified his eyesight to be able to improve is visual reaction time and allow him to up his batting average.

We have all seen that the senate and the media are ready to stop focusing on war, foreign policy, the economy and general state of the planet in order to investigate any possible method that baseball players may use to gain some slight advantage. So obviously a serious national issue.

I can just see some centerfielder testifying before congress about how he is being discriminated against due to his new genetic make up.: “Genetic information Discrimination law , yer Lordship. That’s my story an ah’m stickin’ to it.”

In the mean time, folks in the information business are beginning to sniff out the fact that DNA is mostly about information. Lat year, Google invested over $4 million in 23andme , a company that will test your genes and tell you if your ancestors were more likely to have been the invaders or the invadees in the glorious past written deep in your chromosomes. Since this company is all about accessing and organizing genetic data, it stands to reason that Google would invest based on their mission: organizing the worlds information and making it universally accessible and useful while stuffing as much money in our pockets as we possibly can until we can get our ourselves more, bigger pockets.

More recently, Google quietly invested an undisclosed amount in Navigenics. This company has a different approach. They too function with the cotton Q-Tip method (remind me to invest in the companies that make these cotton swabs) but their goal is to let you know if are likely or not to develop cancer or Alzheimer’s the heartbreak of psoriasis and give you the tools to alert your doctor and have both his accountant and lawyer respond to this new situation.

This all leads me to the issue at hand which is, who owns that information (yes, that again)?

After all, if the data gets published then is it then public domain? This may be important for privacy issues but will really become important when we begin to discover that some of us may hold certain genetic patterns that could have real value.

Imagine dear reader, that you are one of the fortunate who possesses the genetic make up that would allow you to smoke two packs of lucky strikes a day without any predisposition toward lung cancer. There seems to be some proof that certain people are more susceptible to cigarette smoke than others (the luck of the draw , so to speak).

Now, if this gene combination that your blessed ancestors have so carefully selected for arrives in your body, how would you feel about some company exploiting that for gain.

Wouldn’t you feel that you have a right to be remunerated for this DNA that is your own?

And how will it stand with you if Google, who is out there making the data available (monetized in some God-knows what pay-per-chromosome auction model) without ever letting you in on the bounty celebrated from the wonderful cure springing from deep in your cells?

Which brings me back to the new senatorial initiative, it seems to predicate that not only will your DNA be immutable, but that the data will be easily available to those who may want to type you.

If a day at the motor vehicle bureau never frightened you about nationalized health care, this one should scare the be-geneses out of you.

The Dancing Bees of the Hive Mind

April 15, 2008

Much Digital ink is beginning to be spilled about Web 3.0 and the Semantic Web.

The entire notion is that more information about data will lead to better understanding and exploitation of data (maybe that is why information wants to be free?).

Recently, I came across a few articles describing sprocket technology or twining.

The idea is that you have this cool little sprocket running on your machine and learning about your habits. Then this device can talk to other similar devices within your particular network. AS the devices learn more, they can enrich your experience by alerting you of information you would probably be interested in. Of course, advertisiers would love to interrupt you in the middle of what you consider important information for you to have with what they consider important information for you to have.

In any case, these little intelligent agents (now isn’t that term a blast from the past) remind me of dancing bees. I know, I know, I keep going back to the hive mind, but think about how dancing bees inform the hive of where they can find lovely flowers in bloom, ripe with all the pollen they can carry.

Sadly, it seems the little apians have been suffering lately and despite our best efforts to blame cell phone towers, we are still not sure what has been causing this bee blight.

So what if the real culprit is advertising? Some devious virus that is giving the bees false steps in their dance with the stars and that is leading bees to leave the hive en masse in search of fields flowers that never were; a Pleasantville of insects sold on the “better life”?

If we want to find the bees, we’ll need to follow the money. Isn’t it always that way?

If Artificially Intelligent Machines Were Here, How Would We Know?

April 6, 2008

In his 1950 paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” , mathematician Alan Turing described a test of a machines ability to achieve intelligence. This has been popularly named the Turing Test. Essentially, it asks a human judge to have a conversation (in written text and real time) with another human and a machine. If the judging human cannot distinguish between the human and the machine, the machine is said to have passed the test and at least mimicked intelligence. This has spawned a whole school of research about “natural language dialogue systems”.

We all know that unless there is a good financial reason to build such machines, the exercise of doing so will remain just an exercise. So what I am curious about is that when machines successfully pass the test and can imitate human conversations, what are the applications that may be applied?

Of course, one of them would be sex and the other crime.

A Russian program called CyberLover conducts fully automated flirtatious conversations in a bid to collect personal data from unsuspecting real humans behaving all too humanly. The program can be found in dating chat sites and is designed to lure victims into sharing their identities or get them to visit web sites that provoke malware infestations. It can do so with up to 10 simultaneous partners making it quite an efficient machine as well.

With the rapid expansion of social networks and websites focused on conversation and discussion, this type of approach leads one to think that there may soon be a plethora of intelligent machines conversing with online denizens with the goal of gathering their personal data or zombifying their machines (and perhaps thus replicating themselves).

This leads me to the title of this missive. If artificially intelligent machines were here, how would we know? After all, the purpose of the Turing test is to have the machine fool the human into thinking it isn’t a machine. So, by Turing’s early definition, fooling a human is how one detects artificial intelligence. But if the human is fooled, who does the detecting?

Now, while I do subscribe to the notion that even paranoids can have real enemies, I don’t think this calls for panic just yet. But it does bring me back to my notion of the hive mind.

If we were indeed developing a larger, collective intelligence, how would we know? Perhaps that intelligence would be of a nature that we would not recognize it as not us. Or perhaps it would contain so much of us that we would not recognize its whole.

If we were made up of intelligent cells, would the cells know they belonged to a greater mind? Would we know that we were made up of intelligent cells?

Could we be creating an intelligent design and not know it?