Friday, February 18, 2011

I, for one, (do not) welcome our new computer overlords

Ken Jennings is The Man. Not only is the dude intelligent and knowledgeable enough to win 74 consecutive games of "Jeopardy!", but he's not a jerk about it. In fact, he was even gracious about loosing to a machine. Under the response to his Final Jeopardy response in the second of two games against another Jeopardy champion and a computer, he wrote "I for one welcome our new computer overlords". A brilliantly-used "Simpsons" reference that you should not need explained to you. (See "Deep Space Homer", Season 5, Disc 3.) Awesome stuff.

Well, I do not welcome our new overlords. I realize that Watson, the supercomputer that defeated Jennings, is not dangerous to anyone in any way. I also realize that Watson is a major milestone in the development of artificial intelligence. Watson is able to understand and appropriately respond to complex statements. Computers are only going to get smarter. At some point, computers that are able to make independent decisions are going to exist. What happens then? I just hope people in reality are a lot more careful than the characters in Sci-Fi movies who created supercomputers. The development of robots that look and function like humans is well underway. Unless the robots and computers are filled with kill switches, backdoor access, and maybe even remote-destruct devices, the world could very possibly face a Skynet/Matrix/Cylon type of situation in the next one or two-hundred years. Just as the humanity is recovering from the weather changes and rise in sea level caused by global warming, it may have to face the very real consequences of creating something more capable than itself and facing a very real danger that once only existed in the realms of fantasy.