Should you be afraid of your tech?

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technophobia – is a pertinent feature of the contemporary landscape – especially for those old-timers who still think a telephone should have a dial and a cable and that a car should have a driver. Hollywood has been cashing in on this unsettling tension for generations: Robocop, Ex Machina, AI and even dear old Robbie the Robot have always been able to tease a drama out of our latent technophobia But as more and more of our lives are lived in the digital realm – whether at work or at play – that uneasy sense that the bots might get too clever shows no sign of receding. [caption id="attachment_20761" align="aligncenter" width="690"]ROBOCOP" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Wacko Photographer ROBOCOP” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Wacko Photographer[/caption] A question of philosophy The philosopher of technology Don Ihde identified three basic technology relations: those that are like hammers or spectacles that extend our physical abilities, those that in some way interpret the world for us (like a thermometer or a computer) and those that we test ourselves against – like the software that runs computer chess or poker algorithms.  But at no point did Ihde consider that the technology might take over. Poker offers an interesting – and not too scary – case in point. The ability to generate random combinations (as in shuffling cards) and to accept and make automated payments has spawned a huge online gaming industry, tipped to be worth over US$50 billion by 2018. Ihde’s identification of an alterity relation – where you play against the machine – is alive and turning a healthy profit. Computer on computer action But as a recent debate within the poker world has highlighted, the machinery will always struggle to outgrow its human inception. Under the title “Confession of a Poker Bot” a mystery developer has admitted to creating a bot that could consistently win money on poker sites. If that sounds like it’s a lightweight version of Robbie the Robot getting the better of Robocop, then we’re on the right lines. Think Robot Wars without the fireworks. The key point of the article, though, was that the bot wasn’t really that good and that it didn’t really do anything that hadn’t been programmed into it. In other words, it couldn’t do anything that its creator couldn’t already do perfectly well himself. [caption id="attachment_20762" align="aligncenter" width="750"]1966... Star Trek ’Charlie X’" (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by x-ray delta one 1966… Star Trek ’Charlie X’” (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by x-ray delta one[/caption] For those of us that struggle from time to time with a touch of technophobia, that little example offers a smidgen of comfort. It’s like the classic Star Trek conclusion, where the bad guys lose because they can never get the better of our honest human emotionality. The bots may be able to outdo us when it comes to logicality, efficiency and scalability, but at least, as warm-blooded, feeling human beings we can be sure – whatever else happens – we’ll always have the last laugh.]]>

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