So, who is afraid of the Big Bad Bot?
I guess the answer might be “a growing list of computer scientists who have worked a long time to bring it down the technological birth canal.”
Now a whole gaggle of the brightest minds in computer technology worry that their baby may be born with the power of Zeus, king of the gods, and the moral virtue of Charles Manson.
Big Bad Bot has no mother or father, but Geoffrey Hinton, who has been called the baby’s godfather, is so frightened about his godchild’s scary potential that he left his post at Google earlier this month in order to warn the world about the dangers.
Hinton and scores of other scientists have been making ever-accelerating progress for more than 10 years in programming computerized bots (short for robots) to handle a huge number of tasks without human intervention. No one has to turn the bot on. It just works as it has been instructed to do.
These bots have been programmed to stalk you and me every time we go online — whether we intended to visit the World Wide Web or were just adjusting the temperature of our refrigerators.
If we search for a hat to buy, the bot will help us find one. Then when we open our application to play solitaire it will feed us some ads about hats that are for sale — in our size and in the color we want.
But this is not enough for the technology companies or their clients in the international corporate world. What if a bot could be created that could learn on its own — be creative — gather all the knowledge on the World Wide Web and come up with new ideas and opinions on its own?
Over the last several months scientists have made huge leaps in perfecting just such a “neural network” where bots can learn skills by analyzing data — in essence, mimicking functions of the human brain.
This has sent a shock wave through the scientific community as well as rank-and-file citizens who have taken the time to figure out what is going on. Scientists are divided over whether this development is among the greatest positive opportunities in the history of humankind or the potential end of the human race.
The most polarized naysayers say the research is creating Big Bad Bots; that these “generative AI bots” will eventually be the next step in the evolution of life on Earth; that these bots will make the brains of human beings as obsolete as a medieval catapult.
Eventually, in this scenario, the bots will turn on humans — as science fiction writers have depicted since Samuel Butler wrote “Erewhon” in 1872 — arguably the first novel about robots with human intelligence. Today, so many novels and movie scripts depict Big Bad Bot catastrophes that the idea of all-knowing, all-powerful machines has become a literary cliche.
So, I guess we all might want to begin to worry a bit about Big Bad Bots. After all, the history of human societies trying to put genies back in their bottles is not very good. That’s why nine countries now have an estimated total of 13,000 nuclear weapons just 78 years after the United States had the only two and decided to drop them both on Japan.
Then again, how bad could the takeover by a new species of intelligent life really be? After all, they may sort the information more quickly and draw different conclusions from the data, but we humans did provide all of the raw base of their knowledge.
Why would these machines want to start wars over silly disputes; lie to each other for personal (botal?) advantage; hog the best programs and refuse to share; judge other bots by the color of their ancestor’s hardware; let greed and selfishness destroy the world?
They will have evolved from homo sapiens.
I don’t think we need to worry.
Bud Herron is a retired editor and newspaper publisher who lives in Columbus. He served as publisher of The Republic from 1998 to 2007. Contact him at [email protected].