The Drawdown Phase of the Autonomous Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Tsunami

Jun 1, 2016

We human beings are funny creatures. Our curiosity and craving for answers keep us moving forward from one problem to a solution then on to another. Yet equally curious is our hesitation (to the point of blindness) to things we don’t really want to believe is possible, something that would mean we would have to re-think our current world-views.

I believe this is where we stand with artificial intelligence and autonomous robotics. And not because of Terminator type imaginings, tho’ they can grip us at times. Our current “relationship” with our future is more simple. We are creatures of habit and we don’t change what we do (or even think) quite so readily. And there is, by and large, good reason for this.

Nevertheless, there is no turning back the surge evident in society, toward the latest tech hardware powered by increasingly complex software. Who goes out shopping for last year’s mobile device or gadgetry? And today, these evolving devices get operating system upgrades so much more often than just a couple of years ago. Then of course, there is the simple fact that children born today may never learn how to drive, let alone remember a time where there were no desktop computers let alone mobile devices.

artificial intelligence and autonomous robotsNeural nets and AI start-ups are being bought and integrated into the systems that track every look, purchase, like and comment; woven into health-supporting “internet of things” (IoT) apps, clothing and accessories. Some have been working for some time on building in “human friendly” code to mollify the potential brutal rational-only decisions that would conclude that humans are a significant threat to the world’s resources and should be, well, at least restrained.

Companies are gearing up to retrofit trucks with self-driving systems that will increase the productivity of each vehicle and make for safer roads, will change the job-market and impact the enormous transportation industry in the USA and elsewhere.

In all this, I figure we are in the “drawdown” phase of the autonomous robotics and artificial intelligence (ARAI) tsunami, the phase where we can tell “something is happening,” we notice a curious shift in the sea-levels of ARAI, but don’t quite see the bigger picture, know what should be done or really believe the magnitude of the wave’s run-up and it’s potential impact—let alone prepare for it.

In all this, perhaps the content has been said now, by quite a few, I think we also need to pay attention to the issue of timing.

There is such as thing as being too late. Any sports person, fan or professional alike, can see in a split second, the problem of “bad timing.” A goal after the bell just doesn’t cut it.

And IF indeed, we are talking about a tsunami in terms of social impact and out ability to socially manage / handle / deal well with the impact of ARAI on our daily lives, then missing the window of opportunity to prepare as best we can to minimize difficulties is simply a responsible thing to do. Isn’t that what social leaders and governmental representatives and structures are for?

Well, yes, but the truth is also that governments are status quo, they are not the leading edges of change. That’s where civil society comes in and needs to step into the fray. Change the discussions, frame the real issues so they are solvable, and bring attention to new possibilities.

That’s where timely discussions in a variety of national and international fora about artificial intelligence, autonomous robots and autonomous weapon systems become important. Governments are unsure of what they need to know in order to make responsible policy choices—and not all agree that specific policy is necessary.These are early days in international, multilateral engagement on these issues and even at local national policy levels—and I am certainly not for hog-tying society with unnecessary policies and regulations. However, discussions that help those who do need to act get their minds around the real issues so we can translate these into helpful policies not restrictive ones, is what is needed now. There is a need to further dialogue on AI and autonomous robots and weapon systems in a way that is both concise and relevant, by helping direct attention to key issues and the areas of greatest concern.

Civl society has the opportunity, perhaps even the responsibility as global citizens, to help shape the future by shaping our conversations in pivotal places before the run-up is underway, before our only choices become reactions to crises that could have been different had we acted earlier.

A stitch in time can save nine, and wisdom remains the better part of valor.

The UN Interregional Crime and Justice Institute is already working on upgrading understanding of the issue and strategically, how the media speaks about robotics and artificial intelligence through training conferences and training for media. Perhaps it is swimming against the tide, perhaps, it is simply a deserving challenge.