Sunday, May 27, 2018
Opinion

Smartphones don't cry

Staring at a face reflected in the gleaming surface of a new iPad, or hearing Siri's synthesized voice answer questions on an iPhone, it's easy to imagine that there's something more than microchips and wires inside those smart machines. There isn't. But scientists envision a day when computing devices and their software will not only be as smart as the humans who designed them but be able to upgrade themselves. Then what happens?

At a recent and somewhat whimsical panel discussion in Austin, Texas, a trio of robotics experts disagreed on whether events are leading inexorably to a Hollywood-style battle between robots and their creators. But they raised an issue to grapple with today: whether humans should treat their increasingly lifelike machines humanely.

The relentless advance of technology is driven largely by the increasing power of microprocessors. As that power increases, so do the capabilities of the researchers who are pushing the limits of artificial intelligence. It's just a matter of time before the Jeopardy!-dominating capabilities of IBM's Watson supercomputer are a routine feature of cheap PCs; at that point, panelist William Hertling said, hobbyists and scientists together will develop machines that rewrite their own software and eliminate their own shortcomings.

It's impossible to predict where that sort of "technological singularity" might lead. But Hertling and fellow panelist Daniel Wilson — who have written apocalyptic novels about the future of artificial intelligence — said we will have plenty of time to avert a global robot rebellion. Panelist Chris Robson, a mathematician who once worked for Hewlett-Packard on self-modifying hardware, wasn't so sure, saying the era of machines that improve themselves has already arrived.

In the meantime, all three agreed, smart machines pose moral quandaries that earlier gadgets didn't. It's not that machines have rights that must be respected. It's that there's something corrosive about abusing a device that mimics a living creature. As Wilson put it, society might consider it okay to smash a toaster but not an interactive toy with a synthetic personality, even if it doesn't really have feelings. To do otherwise risks raising a generation of people inured to cruelty.

The downside is that the more we treat machines as our friends, the easier it will be for them to enslave us. But then, smartphones appear to have done that already.

© 2012 the Los Angeles Times

Comments
Editorial: Welcome Bayshore changes still can’t stop bad judgment

Editorial: Welcome Bayshore changes still can’t stop bad judgment

It’s human nature in following any tragedy to imagine: How could this have been prevented? On that score, the city of Tampa responded appropriately to the deaths this week of a mother and her toddler whom police say were hit by a teenage driver racin...
Published: 05/25/18
Editorial: Filling Rocky Point lagoon to build townhomes is an empty-headed idea

Editorial: Filling Rocky Point lagoon to build townhomes is an empty-headed idea

One of the worst ideas in a long time in the field of urban planning received a blessing this month when the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission approved a land-use change for a project that calls for filling three acres of water insi...
Published: 05/25/18
Editorial: Searching for the real Adam Putnam

Editorial: Searching for the real Adam Putnam

Send out an Amber Alert for Adam Putnam. The red-haired, affable fellow who has served capably as a state legislator, member of Congress and agriculture commissioner is missing. In his place is a far-right caricature who has branded himself as a prou...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Editorial: A strong economic case for restoring voting rights for felons

Editorial: A strong economic case for restoring voting rights for felons

Floridians are paying a steep price for a system that makes it as difficult as possible for people who leave prison to reintegrate into civic life. Gov. Rick Scott’s clemency process isn’t just archaic and cruel — it also wastes enormous public resou...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Editorial: Trump right to cancel North Korea talks on nuclear weapons

Editorial: Trump right to cancel North Korea talks on nuclear weapons

Regardless of the reason, the cancellation of the U.S.-North Korea summit to address Pyonyang’s nuclear program is hardly the worst possible outcome of this high-stakes diplomatic gamble. President Donald Trump was unprepared, North Korea’s Kim Jong ...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18

NFL kneels before the altar of profits

The owners of the 32 National Football League teams sent a wrongheaded and, frankly, un-American message to their players Wednesday: Expressing your opinion during the national anthem is no longer permitted."A club will be fined by the League if its ...
Published: 05/24/18

Editorial: A positive first step in ensuring student access at USFSP

As a task force sorts out countless details involved in folding the University of South Florida St. Petersburg back into the major research university based in Tampa, ensuring access for good Pinellas students remains a concern. An enhanced cooperati...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Legislation that waters down the 2010 Dodd-Frank law and was sent to President Donald Trump this week is a mixed bag at best. Some provisions recognize that Congress may have gone too far in some areas in the wake of the Great Recession to place new ...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18
Editorial: Honoring our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day

Editorial: Honoring our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day

The rising tensions with Iran, the resurgence of violence in the Mideast and the uncertainty over a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea combine to create an unsettling time this Memorial Day. These grave threats to peace are another reminder of...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/25/18

Another voice: The chutzpah of these men

A new phase of the #MeToo movement may be upon us. Call it the "not so fast" era: Powerful men who plotted career comebacks mere months after being taken down by accusations of sexual misconduct now face even more alarming claims.Mario Batali, the ce...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/23/18