If I Had A Robot, Would I Hammer in the Morning?

10 02 2011

You can tell the robot is happy from its glowing eyes and smile of satisfaction.

Giving this its own post: a tool is itself morally neutral until used by a human, be it for good or ill. That goes for hammers and guns, oil rigs and printing presses, yes, and technology — so far including robots. Ethical import is of, by and for us as people, not our tools.

The difference with robots is that we’re not confident we haven’t outsmarted ourselves and created a tool that perhaps one day will out-human us.

In the race to build computers that can think like humans, the proving ground is the Turing Test—an annual battle between the world’s most advanced artificial-intelligence programs and ordinary people. The objective? To find out whether a computer can act “more human” than a person.

In his own quest to beat the machines, the author discovers that the march of technology isn’t just changing how we live, it’s raising new questions about what it means to be human.

It’s a good story, full of quotes like “Just be yourself . . .seems to me like a somewhat naive overconfidence in human instincts” and “It’s an odd twist: we’re like the thing that used to be like us. We imitate our old imitators, in one of the strange reversals in the long saga of human uniqueness.”

Who knows whether human-threshold-reaching robots would be a reality we regular humans could handle?

Greg Bear in Darwin’s Radio and Darwin’s Children imagined a future in which our own human children suddenly become advanced in ways that seem breathtakingly alien — a metaphor perhaps, for humans giving life to robots who then leave us behind as lesser than they? — and Favorite Daughter (more advanced than I am for sure!) once wrote a cautionary tale on this theme, concerned for human ethics no matter what challenges to our own humanity we create for ourselves:

I propose that the budget of the humanities program be doubled, rather than cut back and/or eliminated in any manner. Because when they finally build robots strong enough to take us over, you’re going to want somebody who has not become a mere shell of his former self, less human than machine.

Young Son for his part, is currently intrigued by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. 😉

How about you? Still human enough to think and feel deeply and authentically, to marvel at such stories and wonder what quintessence makes and keeps us humans that way?



4 responses

11 02 2011

Cock of the snook to Lynne who blogs at Schola, for alerting me to the “FOX Geezer” Syndrome which I’m thinking could make a prequel to the Greg Bear books, in which our elderly parents DE-evolve into less-than-human, instead of our young children e-volving into more-than-we.

Another connection between this and that, is television as value-neutral technology, not human and neither humane nor inhumane except in the uses we make of it and the power over our lives we give it.

12 02 2011

Public schooling is a tool, too. Here is how Michelle Rhee for example, uses it: to aggrandize herself and her personal schtick, no matter who it hurts in how many ways:

Rhee faces renewed scrutiny over depiction of students’ progress when she taught
By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2011

Former D.C. schools chancellor [and current “advisor” to our state’s very recent resident and surprise king, half-billionaire scam artist Rick Scott] Michelle A. Rhee, known for her crusade to use standardized test scores to help evaluate teachers, is facing renewed scrutiny over her depiction of progress that her students made years ago when she was a schoolteacher.

A former D.C. math teacher, Guy Brandenburg. . . contended that the data show Rhee “lied repeatedly” in an effort to make gains in her class look more impressive than they were.

Rhee, who resigned last year as chancellor, denied fabricating anything about her record and said Brandenburg’s conclusion was unfounded. But she acknowledged this week that she could have described her accomplishments differently in 2007, when then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) selected her to be chancellor.

At issue is a line in Rhee’s resume from that year that described her record at Harlem Park Elementary School: “Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.”

. . .Rhee’s record is of more than historical interest to many teachers who are skeptical of her brand of school reform and say test scores are an unreliable gauge of performance.

As chancellor, Rhee made growth in test scores a key metric for measuring the effectiveness of educators. Achievement trends factored into decisions about whether to fire principals. Many teachers were rated in part on whether their students gained or stagnated on test scores in reading and math. Those with poor evaluations under the system Rhee called IMPACT faced possible dismissal.

The. . . results were presented in enough detail to raise questions about whether any single class could have made strides of the magnitude Rhee depicted on her resume.

Rhee said she taught second grade for two years, then third grade in 1994-95. In that year, Rhee said, her class made a major leap in achievement.
The study found that third-graders overall at the school made gains that year in reading and math. But they finished nowhere near the 90th percentile. . .

14 02 2011

‘I’ll take human ingenuity for $2,000’
Even if IBM’s Watson triumphs on ‘Jeopardy!,’ don’t count out people
By Stephen Baker
February 15, 2011

23 09 2011
Judy Blume: “Children are the real losers . . .” « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Snook posts for Banned Books Week every year (this makes six because the blog started just in time for the 2006 celebration, which was the silver anniversary. Last year’s is here: If I Had a Robot, Would I Hammer in the Morning? […]

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