BABE IN ARM

BABY CIRCUIT crop

The article in the Telegraph starts off with the chilling words, “The rise of “self-aware” robots…” It goes on to chronicle the coming of age of a robotic arm, which, ALL BY ITSELF, figured out what it was, and what it could do… then did it. All in 35 hours. A human baby might take years to figure out the same kind of purpose if no adult instructed it on how and what to do. The arm took 35 hours of empirical “self-teaching.” To become “self-aware” from scratch. No preprogramming, no instruction on physics or measurements, or even a primary instruction. Just throw the switch and it awakens and starts finding out what it is, what it can do and then does it. No human intervention whatsoever.

It took nearly half the time of the universe’s existence for the first use of tools by a hominoid to emerge some 2.6 million years ago. (Many scientists deduced this from the implements they found in Gona in Ethiopia.) The first use of tools by our human ancestors dates back 1.8 million years. That means it took 800,000 years for pre-homo sapiens, watching the apes use stones as tools, to finally catch on that they could use tools too. The machine took 35 hours.

“So what? Some stupid robotic arm can now perform tasks that nobody taught it to do?” – could be how we might shrug this off. But then this little moment was also revealed in the article.

The researchers at Columbia University, where the arm leaned what it was, tried to screw with it. They crippled the machine, but it ADAPTED and figured out how to do its task in a new way. (think of the Terminator dragging itself to finish it’s mission after it lost its legs in the movie.)

To many devotees of technology, this is soooo cool. In fact, most of the article (https://finance.yahoo.com/news/robot-thinks-itself-scratch-brings-190000563.html) speaks glowingly of this “miracle” like parents watching a baby grab and shake a rattle. All except the last line, “It’s a powerful technology, but it should be handled with care.” The study is published in the journal Science Robotics.

I have written much about these moments when the techno-elite have gone all gaga over these developmental milestones like doting parents in awe of the miracle of life before them.

I wish there were human-elites, the humanist who would ask the question, “Why are we doing this? Why are we creating such rapidly “evolving” almost (not yet) life forms?” And my perennial question, “Just because we can, should we?”

Two years ago critics of chicken little like, anti-technology rants avowed that the whole idea of run-away machines that will outsmart us, and finally figure out we are the weakest link in the new techno-evolution, is all sci-fi claptrap. They confidently stated: A machine will never be self-aware, so we are in no danger.

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