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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

July 27, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Robots in control: Idea may not be so far-fetched

Slow technological advances to avoid digital disaster

Thanks for printing John Markoff’s story [“Uh-oh; robots might one day outsmart us,” page one, July 26] on the ongoing evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems. It should be noted that the advances that have been made in the fields of computerization, cybernetics and AI have already caused “profound social disruptions” that threaten “dangerous consequences.”

Electronic gadgetry is diffused throughout our world. The consequences of this have been ambiguous at best and in some cases disastrous.

The omnipresence of television, cellphones and related media provide ubiquitous entertainment and distraction and allow for quick social connection while contributing to short attention spans, illiteracy and innumeracy.

One of the individuals mentioned in the story is Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems. A few years ago, Joy actually called for a moratorium on all further research in AI and other related fields.

Joy referred to this moratorium as “relinquishment.” More than most, Joy is deeply aware of the transformative power of refined and recondite technologies that may soon be made manifest. He made it clear he was not confident that these would be employed in the wisest fashion, but his suggestion was mostly ignored.

The ongoing efforts in AI are likely to continue unabated with little reflection regarding the potentially deleterious side effects.

But at some point, we may be wise to revisit Joy’s suggestion before we find ourselves not necessarily displaced by self-directed artificially-intelligent machines but inundated in an incoherent sea of cyber-babble and confronted with a dazzling technotopia wherein genuine existential meaning and human spirituality is diluted in a relentless cyber-circus.

— Joe Martin, Seattle

Yes, there are robots among us

As to your July 25 article, “Uh-Oh; Robots might someday outsmart us,” I’ve got news for you. They already have. They’re called “Republicans.”

— Rob Moitoza, Seattle

Boosted by human avarice, machines will rule the world

Of course machines will one day outsmart us. That is pretty much a certainty. The only thing that will prevent that occurrence is man’s self destruction before he improves machines to the point where they can figure out how to reproduce. This is not something people are willing to face, so they tell themselves it will never happen.

The overwhelming majority of people who are educated sufficiently to think about the distant future are possessed of the conceit that man is the final product, either of a grand creator or of evolution.

But that isn’t so. Man is just one step in the process of evolution. He will be replaced, most likely by machines.

Machines are the odds-on favorite because avarice is man’s heritage, and avarice will bring about the development of increasingly better and smarter machines. Men of wealth and power, large corporations, cartels and governments will always want more.

Machines will work more efficiently than people, so people are phased out of production processes as machines are improved. Armies of human soldiers will be phased out also. Destruction and domination of other countries will be accomplished from a distance until war is seen as unnecessarily wasteful.

Eventually the world will be ruled by a small group of enormous cartels, and these cartels will rely on machines to plan and to execute plans.

Perhaps cows think men are their servants. Most assuredly, remaining humans will think machines are their servants.

— Tom Difloe, Camano Island

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