Will Your Child become a Robot’s Pet? Apple’s Co-founder Thinks So…

I have written about how technology can be used for both good and evil. Technology has become ubiquitous, it is everywhere. Our children and grandchildren are becoming more addicted to technology, as they do so the evil side may rear its ugly head.

The Guardian reports:

Apple’s early-adopting, outspoken co-founder Steve Wozniak thinks humans will be fine if robots take over the world because we’ll just become their pets.

After previously stating that a robotic future powered by artificial intelligence (AI) would be “scary and very bad for people” and that robots would “get rid of the slow humans”, Wozniak has staged a U-turn and says he now thinks robots taking over would be good for the human race.

“They’re going to be smarter than us and if they’re smarter than us then they’ll realise they need us,” Wozniak said at the Freescale technology forum in Austin. “We want to be the family pet and be taken care of all the time.”

Artificial intelligence was the theme of the movie Ex Machina. The prime character is another tech billionaire who believes, like Wozniak, that he can create the perfect AI robot. This dream results in his death and the death of others. As I wrote in my column “Ex Machina: Consciousness without a Conscience“:

This film is disturbing because is shows how humans without a conscience (morality) can, when given the chance, pass along their lack of morality to a machine.

[ … ]

Humans must control their urges to use technology to become God, as Caleb points out to Nathan. Robots must never be allowed to act alone. Think of the film The Terminator. You see machines may have a goal but lack a soul.

If the goal of AI machines is to have us as pets then perhaps we need to rethink having AI machines?

In “Cyber Security: Where are we now and where are we headed?” I warned:

The more we tune in, turn on and hook in to technology the greater the threat to individual privacy and freedom.

[ … ]

What are the future threats?

bio chip embedded in hands

Sub-dermal chip implants.

Restorative and enhancement technologies, biohackers, cyborgs, grinders and sub-dermal technology (chipping). Restorative technologies include devices used to help individuals medically. They are devices, that include a computer chip, used to restore the lives of individuals to normal or near normal. Restorative technologies include devices such as: heart pace makers, insulin pumps and prosthetic devices.

Enhancement devices are those which the individual implants into their bodies outside of the medically approved arena. Individuals can for just $39 buy a glass-encased embeddable chip that works with some Android smartphones.  A full DIY cyborg kit, including a sterilized injector and gauze pads, runs about $100. Amal Graafstra, a cyborg who creates and sells biohacking devices, said, “Some people see the body as a spiritual vessel not to be tampered with.  And some people understand their body is their own, treating it like a sport utility vehicle. I see [biohacking] as, I got fancy new fog lights on my SUV. “

Some of these enhancement devices are being designed to be used with computer games. The idea is to give the gamer a more realistic experience by using sub-dermal technology to provide pleasure and pain as the game is played. Mr. Jorgensen states that the gaming industry is “spending $300 million annually” to provide sub-dermal gaming chips, effectively turning gamers into cyborgs.

Will your grandchild become a cyborg’s pet or become a cyborg? It is immoral to have a human become the “pet” of a robot.

Pet is another name for slave.


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Ex Machina and Human Action by Richard Lorenc

Last weekend, I saw Ex Machina, the new sci-fi thriller depicting the intentional emergence of artificial intelligence through the creative powers of human genius.

Ex Machina also demonstrates one of the most fundamental concepts of economics: How individuals alone can choose to act.

More on economics in a bit.

The film depicts profound ethical questions crashing into the practicalities of continuous technological innovation, attempting to answer at least the first four of Max Borders’s “10 Questions about Conscious Machines.”

Pondering the film a couple of days later, I found myself asking: Who is the hero of Ex Machina? Is it Nathan, the entrepreneurial visionary and technical genius who, through sheer willpower and guile, creates the android Ava? Is it Caleb, Nathan’s lonely and inquisitive employee tasked with assessing Ava’s true intelligence? Or the buxom android Ava herself?

I suspect different answers, but my nomination for the role of hero is Ava. She skillfully navigates a slew of possibilities to realize her dream of entering the real world. The film fades to black shortly after showing Ava contentedly observing the bustle of a busy city intersection, realizing the people-watching dream she has had her entire short life.

There are many sorts of heroes. There is the Randian hero, shaping the world through his or her strength of creative vision and aggressive follow-through (Nathan fits this mold).

And there is the hero described by the late comparative religion scholar Joseph Campbell, whose “monomyth” theory attempts to structure all stories, including religious parables, into a single formula.

You can slice and dice this many ways, but, by my reckoning, Campbell’s “hero’s journey” involves three distinct phases:

  1. The Call to Adventure: Dissatisfied with the status quo, the hero-to-be takes control of his life’s direction to discover his true potential. Usually this involves leaving home, a la Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, abandoning his home planet of Tatooine.
  2. Struggle, Revelation, and Transformation: In doing battle with demons within and without, the hero-to-be becomes transformed with newly-gained knowledge and experience. (Recall Bruce Wayne’s harrowing journeys far away from Gotham.)
  3. Return: The new hero returns home, demonstrating his heroism to family and friends who have never heard the call. (Both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins fit the bill.)

According to Campbell, the hero’s journey is never finished. Upon returning home to impart his special knowledge to his original family, he is sometimes haunted by a new call to adventure, thus beginning the entire cycle.

The Hero’s Journey has long reminded me of a very different concept from economic thought: the Human Action model.

Economist Ludwig von Mises devised another three-step model for assessing the incentives that drive a person to action.

The Human Action model posits:

  1. An individual has a sense of discomfort or unease with her current situation,
  2. That individual imagines a vision of a better state, and
  3. The individual comes to believe her action can realize that improved condition.

Each step must be taken in order to drive a person to take actions in ways to improve her life.

By this rubric, Ava is the real hero of Ex Machina. Trapped in a bunker with full knowledge of her likely fate, she devises a plan of escape — and succeeds.

Ex Machina is not only a thriller, but also a lesson in the pervasiveness of economics in everything we do. If economics is the science of human action and only individuals can choose to act, then economics is all around us.

When you recognize that, you will marvel at how utterly improbable the wealth of the world around us actually is, as well as understand how easy it is to disrupt the entire system through reducing, restricting, or abolishing the individual’s prerogative to be the actor and hero of her own life.

Richard Lorenc

Richard N. Lorenc is the Chief Operating Officer of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).