When Thomas Sowell was writing his syndicated column on economics, I always looked forward to his sporadically appearing “Random Thoughts on the Passing Scene.” Reminding readers that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I offer my own “Random Thoughts on Recent AI Headlines.”
● “The World’s First Robot-Made Burger Is About to Hit the Bay Area” Hamburger flipping sounds easier to program than order fulfillment at an Amazon fulfillment center. Putting lettuce, tomatoes, and onions on a bun is an old-fashioned assembly line job. So what’s the big deal here? Answer: the seductive semantics, “robot.” And maybe the loss of some jobs. Curiously, the robo-burgers cost more.
● Speaking of burger-flipping leading to the loss of jobs, I have been told personally by two McDonald’s managers that the new automated ordering kiosks inside did not replace jobs. In fact, an employee is sometimes assigned to teach customers how to use them. Older customers hate the kiosks. I’d like to see more data on this.1
● “Silicon Valley startup wants to digitize brains in ‘100% fatal’ process.” Here’s what you’re told to do to get digitized: First, have your brain cryogenically frozen while you are still alive. Second, appeal to an algorithm-of-the-gaps that the noncomputable part of what is you can someday be captured and reproduced. Skeptics like me abound. That future is so distant that current prophets can make sincere-sounding promises with no threat of scrutiny in their lifetimes.2
● “Mama Mia It’s Sophia: A Show Robot Or Dangerous Platform To Mislead?” Sophia, a chatbot that looks like a cross between a Disney Princess and a Borg amplifies AI by simulating human facial expressions and gestures. Forbes’ title gets it right: The seductive optics of the low-tech robot head amplifies the mediocre AI embedded in Sophia to mislead the audience.3
● “Thousands of Swedes are inserting microchips into themselves” Track wolves, track dolphins, but please don’t track me. I want my privacy. And because I don’t want anyone to hack silicon implanted in me, I won’t implant any.4
● “Bots, algorithms, and the future of the finance function” Computers are currently redesigning finance functions in the corporation. People who were working in some areas of finance last year are not working there today. Check out my interviews with the Opera Philadelphia CFO on the Mind Matters podcast, Robotic Accounting Department.
● “Elon Musk: Free cash handouts ‘will be necessary’ if robots take humans’ jobs.” This headline doesn’t even hint at questions that spring immediately to mind: Should we increase entitlements that remove the incentive for able-bodied people to work? Should we ignore the creative entrepreneurial forces that continually infuse vitality into the economy? Such stories give short shrift to these questions. George Gilder is right: “I think Elon Musk is a tremendous entrepreneur, yet he’s a quite retarded thinker.”5
● “America’s new supercomputer beats China’s fastest machine to take title of world’s most powerful” Competing for the fastest computer looks to be a healthy competition among countries compared to an arm’s race. But won’t faster computers ultimately play a pivotal role in military arms development? Absolutely.
● “Army researchers are developing a self-aware squid-like robot” Sure. When my car backs up too close to another car, I hear beeping. So my car is aware of its environment. Does that make my car “self-aware”? It depends on your dictionary. The “self-aware … robot” in this headline grabs attention by using ill-defined seductive semantics.6
● “A new Doppler LIDAR solves self-driving cars’ need for speed”
This article promotes specific products but LIDAR (light detection and ranging) is an indispensable tool for self-driving cars. Unless I’ve missed it, we’re still waiting for commercially available Level 5 self-driving car technology. I want one.7
● The Boom Box Returneth: More and more, people are blasting audio from their cell phones— music, calls, and video—at rock concert volume. Super Loud Ringtones app, anyone?8 Maybe it’s a violation of free speech, but I would back a national earbud law.
● “Future elections may be swayed by intelligent, weaponized chatbots” Maybe. Madison Avenue has been playing with our minds for years to sell brands. I’ve been told for decades that if I don’t wear Aqua Velva aftershave, I’m not a man and the girls won’t like me. And politicians have been running clever, weaponized campaign ads for years. Chatbots are just another arrow in their quiver.9
● “Who needs democracy when you have data?” China is not restricted in how it collects and uses data against citizens. I hope the 5th Amendment in the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights keeps the US government out of my personal affairs. Google now knows more about me than my mother did but I gave them permission in return for their services. Plus I have ways to avoid Google data collection. But government?10 Go away.
Also by Robert J. Marks: Top Ten AI hypes of 2018
1 See “McDonald’s, meet McPathogens” for another potential problem.
3 About chatbots in general, if you are a human being who talks to others for a living, don’t quit your job.
4 And, don’t kid yourself, many people do want your information. See “Your phone knows everything now.”
6 More on the Army’s proposed squidbot here.
8 Some of the worst are itemized here (be warned!)
9 Dilbert’s creator, Scott Adams, worries more than I do. Time will tell who’s right.
10 I don’t ever want to have to care what my “social credit score” is.