In the 1955 fictional short story, Watchbird, written by Robert Sheckley, we read of a technologically rich society that has decided to do something about the crippling problem of murder. Winged metal protectors patrol the sky looking for the warning signs of a possible homicide and swoop in to stop the murder before it can happen. While the program of using birdlike “guardian angels” appears to be flawless, the director of the manufacturing plant, Charlie Gelsen, has nagging doubts about “allowing machines to make decisions that are rightfully Man’s.”
The debate over artificial intelligence (AI) is really a philosophical one. Although it has all the earmarks of being about technology, the technology itself is really beside the point. The technological advances in the interrelated areas of computer science and robotics have brought the debate home in a real way, instead of being merely theoretical and futuristic. The decisions we make now will certainly have ramifications for the future of our children and grandchildren, but they also will have an immediate impact on our own tomorrow.
Last week, we discussed the very real (and very near) prospect of integrating “autonomous robots” into our human society and what sort of ethical questions this might raise. When technological advancement begins to infringe upon personal privacy and freedom, citizens at all levels of political persuasion begin to raise a fuss (just ask President Bush). For some reason, we have this selfish idea that our technological inventions should serve us and not the other way around. The 1986 movie, Maximum Overdrive, which was written and directed by Stephen King, takes this belief about technology and turns it on its head.
Technological advances almost always come with a price. Not only with the cost of the actual material and labor and research and development, but with an opportunity cost as well. Think of the advantages of a cell phone or perhaps the "OnStar" system that comes on many vehicles. One of the many positives is that in the event of an accident or emergency you can contact, or be contacted, by help if you need it. The downside is that you can be contacted and tracked at any time, not just when you so desire it.
Technological advances almost always come with a price. Not only with the cost of the actual material and labor and research and development, but with an opportunity cost as well. Think of the advantages of a cell phone or perhaps the “OnStar” system that comes on many vehicles.