Our A.I. love/fright affair

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UltronEver stop to think about humans’ state of affairs with artificial intelligence (A.I.)?  It’s a lot like a girl who’s fallen in love with a charming, attractive man who is also a serial killer: She is aware that he is dangerous, maybe even lethal; but she forces herself to love him anyway, trusting that her faith in his inner goodness will win out in the end and not leave her in a shallow grave in little, hacked-up pieces.

Or, rather, that’s how our relationship with A.I. could be; in actual fact, we stay with A.I. because we need its help, but we expect it’s going to turn and hack us up any second now. Continue reading

Ex Machina: Humans vs A.I… of course

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Ava in Ex Machina

Ava, the robot featured in Ex Machina

I had the chance to see the new movie Ex Machina (pronounced: Ex Ma-Khi-na) in a sort of “boutique” theater, the ArcLight Theater in Bethesda.  The ArcLight presents a more upscale theater-going experience, which turned out to be perfect for Ex Machina, as it’s an upscale telling of the “humans vs A.I.” theme that is usually represented (crudely) by the Terminator franchise, (genocidally) by Galactica or (lightly) by Star Trek.

And for “upscale,” how did it do?  Masterfully.  Overall, a five-star experience—if you’re okay with science fiction movies that don’t feature space ships and ‘splosions and ask you to use more than five brain cells at a time.  (Oh, yeah, there’s a bit of sexual language and nudity, so leave the kids at home.)

Read on; no spoilers ahead.

Continue reading

Security: Encryption, A.I. and drones (Oh my!)

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data securitydata securityPersonal security has taken a number of recent hits, most notably with the reports of recent hacking into the databases of Target, Home Depot and other national retailers. Financial institutions are finally concluding that the U.S. needs to start using chip-embedded credit cards to better protect their funds and identities.

On the heels of that, the iPhone 6 has been released with an encryption system that (supposedly) no government or agency can break, keeping anything stored therein private from prying eyes.  On one hand, law enforcement agencies are complaining that this will only make their jobs more difficult.  On the other, agencies are realizing this makes their operatives’ data better protected.  And, of course, private individuals like the idea of being able to secure all of their data, allowing them to, as law enforcement puts it, “place themselves beyond the law.”

But as secrets become easier to keep, we run the risk of ne’er-do-wells attacking us more often, targeting our institutions, our money, and even our lives, using the same security measures we rely on.  Does my need for privacy include allowing a terrorist an easier time destroying my plane?  Is the collection of internet porn on my cellphone so important that we should also allow foreign agents to store their collection of bomb making manuals and list of suppliers on their cellphones?   Do we have to allow people to keep whatever secrets they have, only to examine them within an inch of their lives every time they approach a public place?  Continue reading

Extant’s dubious technological mix

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Halle Berry in Extant

Halle Berry in Extant (CBS)

American audiences are presently being treated to a miniseries on CBS: Extant, the story of an astronaut (Halle Berry as Molly) who discovers that she somehow became pregnant while on a 13-month solo mission in space.

Naturally, I’m all for science fiction series, including mini-series (and I have no problem whatsoever with watching Halle Berry for an hour each week), so I was ready for a ride when the series started.

I was also hoping to see some interesting science and technology depicted in a story about an astronaut.  But there are some things about Extant that I didn’t expect, because… well, let me say that I’m not sure they’re well thought out. Continue reading

AIs taking over? What the heck for?

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CybermenOne of the favorite discussions amongst sci-fi fans, scientists, computer experts and roboticists is the idea that artificial intelligence, or AI, will someday become so smart that it will “kill all the humans” and take over the world.  The trope has led to innumerable books, movies, papers, games and debates, and keeps everyone looking sideways at their computers whenever they do something unexpected.  It has arguably become the largest source of mass paranoia in the industrialized world, now surpassing our distrust of government.

And it’s fun to talk about, whether we expect it to happen or not. Continue reading

Machine consciousness is possible, but first, psychologists must define consciousness

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Quantum physicist David Deutsch has penned an article for Aeon Magazine that examines the concept that artificial general intelligence (AGI) on a par with human intelligence is possible, given the assumption that any physical model—even the very movements and actions of atoms—can be emulated by mechanical means. Continue reading