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The New Buzzword
Working in I.T. for over 25 years, I often get a chuckle when business managers and the media start touting the latest tech buzzword, making it sound way more complicated and science fictiony than it really is. Growing up, “Information Superhighway” (which became the Internet) was the big thing. About 10 years ago, the “Cloud Computing” craze started. While complex behind the scenes, the concepts are simple. The Internet is a worldwide connection of computers and devices. The Cloud is nothing more than storing your programs & files on someone else’s computers. Which brings me to the latest buzzword I seem to hear 10 times a day — A.I., or artificial intelligence.
AI conjures up images of Skynet & terminators, or if you’re older, perhaps HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. First of all, computers can’t think and never will be able to think. All they can do is what they’re programmed to do. Artificial Intelligence is really just a large decision tree and set of mathematical computations. Truth is, AI has been in use in limited fashion since the birth of programming languages. The difference now is the computing power and programmed algorithms have grown so sophisticated, they can mimic human intelligence more closely.
An example from a 20-year-old toy I remember may clarify. It was a 20 Questions game that could guess any person, place, or thing that you imagined. It had an uncanny ability to guess your word–almost humanlike. But it was just running a big keyword decision tree. For example, it started out with a large storage of answers, say 10 million. The first question would be person, place, or thing? If you said “person” it could immeditately elimate roughly 2/3 of the answers. “Is the person living or dead?” “Is it a professional athlete?” “Is it a male or female?” (Note: only two genders existed back then) Each answer chopped off more possible answers. “Is it a football player?” “A quarterback?” “Does he play for the Packers?” And so on until it gave you the answer of Brett Favre. Nowadays, the programming can reflect voice recognition, language interpretation, statistical patterns, and so much more.
So is it dangerous? Not in a Skynet terminator time travel kind of way, no. The danger comes is the fact that humans, with all their flaws, biases, and politicial leanings, are doing the programming. So, based on Big Tech’s performance over the last 3 years with Covid, Jan 6th, government partnerships, etc., do you think that’s a problem?
If you want a science fiction movie that better summarizes the dangers, look at Captain America: Winter Soldier. Yes, it’s very far-fetched and uses a lot of tech we don’t yet have, but there’s definitely many parallels to real life. In the movie, a rogue group (called Hydra) has taken control of much of world governments. They use a sophisticated artificial intelligence system to analyze the entire population’s emails, texts, posts, conversations, associations, and so on. They identify 20 million people around the world who are threats to their power — the critical thinkers, independent minded, anti-government libertarians, etc. Let’s just call it people with very low social credit scores. They unleash a set of sophisticated drones to eliminate all 20 million people at once, as they describe, to preserve the peace and stability of billions. Captain America and his allies learn of the program and try to shut it down. The government, of course, classifies Captain America’s group as an enemy of the state, using all its agencies and “just following orders” soldiers to go after them.
See any parallels to real life yet? I know, of course, it’s far fetched. But we’ve already seen countless examples through history such as Nazi Germany and the USSR where governments purge millions in an effort to remake, in their minds, a Utopian society. Since the tech became available, all recent American presidents have been using drone strikes to take out those labeled as terrorists, usually without any checks to see if the targets really deserve their fates. Still, Americans are way too enlightened to ever allow such a large-scale purge to take place, right? A few years ago, I would have agreed with that statement. But then, for 3 years, I watched a small group of Big Tech programmers repeatedly trample on the civil rights of tens of millions of Americans, disappearing them and their posts from social media, often following orders directly from the government, without putting up even a shred of a fight. Polls showed the majority of Democratic voters supported prison for those who didn’t get a Covid vaccine or wear masks in public. Every trashing of civil rights had a justification: “misinformation,” “hate speech,” “threat to public health,” and so on. Is it really out of the possibility that a small subset of hard-core leftists in Silicon Valley or the Democratic Party could just decide the world would just be better off without certain people? After all, a small group of “insurrections” almost brought down the entire government in an attack as bad as 9/11 and the Civil War!!!! We already know from censorship & social media bans that Big Tech has identified the “trouble makers.” We’ve seen how Biden and others in power will ruthlessly use their Big Tech allies and governemnt agencies to go after political opponents. And we’ve obviously seen how more and more military technology is being taken out of the hands of humans.
I don’t see any problems here, do you? 🤔 Just forget about it and go on with your lives. AI is a great thing that will make the world a better place. 👌
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