A.I. For Deluded Nutcases

Some goon (sorry: Californian counsellor) has patented Inductive Inference Affective Language Analyzer Simulating Artificial Intelligence (including the Ten Ethical Laws Of Robotics). It’s nothing but unintelligible babble, interspersed by (inaccurate) references to artificial intelligence theory. The author (who also writes a book on family values with a distinct evangelic slant, from which most of the text of the patent seems to be taken) appears to know nothing about A.I. or computer science. In addition, I find his suggestion that ‘wooly’ and ‘vague’ rules and ‘commandments’ are sensible choices for A.I. safeguards –

While a meaningful future artificial intelligence may be more than capable of understanding rules set out in a way that a human might like to express it – indeed, for some machine intelligences (artificial or not) this capacity to understand human speech and expressions could be a very useful feature – this is not the level at which safeguards should be implemented.

While I appreciate the need for ‘safeguards’ (the need is that humans would not feel safe without them, as even early machine intelligences – having been built for a specific purpose – will be in many ways superior to their human creators and therefore be perceived as a threat to them), I do not feel that a safeguard which depends on the machine already being fully functional would be even remotely effective. Instead, such safeguards should be implemented at a far lower and fundamental level.

For an example of this, think of the safety procedures that are built into modern aircraft. An aeroplane is a sophisticated and powerful piece of machinery with some carefully-designed artificial intelligence algorithms pre-programmed into it, such as the autopilot and autoland features, the collision avoidance system, and the fuel regulators. Other, less sophisticated decision-making programs include the air pressure regulators and the turbulence indicators.

If the cabin pressure drops, an automatic system causes oxygen masks to drop from the overhead compartment. But this is not the only way to cause this to happen – the pilot also has a button for this purpose. On many ‘planes, in the event of a wing fire, the corresponding engine will be switched off – but this decision can be overridden by a human operator. These systems are all exhibiting high-level decision-making behaviour: rules programmed in to the existing systems. But these are, in the end, a second level safeguard to the low-level decision-making that prompts the pilot to press the button that drops the masks or keeps the engine on. These overrides are the most fundamental and must crucial safeguards in a modern aircraft: the means to physically cause or prevent the behaviour of the A.I..

Let’s go back to our ‘robots’ – imagine a future not unlike that expressed in films like Blade Runner or I, Robot, in which humanoid robotic servants assist humans with many menial tasks. Suppose, for whatever reason (malice, malfunction, or whatever), a robot attacks a human – the first level of safeguard (and the only one suggested by both films and by the author of the “Ten Ethical Laws“) would be that the human could demand that the robot desist. This would probably be a voice command: “Stop!”. But of course, this is like the aeroplane that ‘decides’ to turn off a burning engine – we already know that something has ‘gone wrong’ in the AI unit: the same machine that has to process the speech, ‘stop’. How do we know that this will be correctly understood, particularly if we already know that there has been a malfunction? If the command fails to work, the human’s only likely chance for survival would be to initialise the second, low-level safeguard – probably a reset switch or “big red button”.

You see: the rules that the author proposes are unsubstantial, vauge, and open to misinterpretation – just like the human’s cry for the robot to stop, above. The safeguards he proposes are no more effective than asking humans to be nice to one another is to preventing crime.

Whether or not it is ethical to give intelligent entities ‘off’ buttons is, of course, another question entirely.

Additional: On further reading, it looks as if the author of the document recently saw “I, Robot” and decided that his own neo-Christian viewpoint could be applied to artificial intelligences: which, of course, it could, but there is no reason to believe that it would be any more effective on any useful artificial intelligence than it would be on any useful ‘real’ intelligence.

Burny Burny Firey Goodness

Fire 1Gareth came over this weekend, and he, Bryn, Paul, Claire and I decided to have a bonfire and a barbeque on the beach. Sadly, Matt – who’s in town for resits – couldn’t join us, as he’s busy revising (best of luck to you, Matt!).Fire 2

In any case, the food and the beer and the company was good, until it started threatening rain and spitting on us in short bursts, when we decided we’d better abandon the camp and go play some Super Monkey Ball. And I kicked arse. And then Gareth beat me.

It’s been a rich, full weekend: between a brief exercise in nudism, Troma Night (Indiana Jones-themed), Gareth’s visit, and the fire on the beach, it’s been great. And, better yet, it looks like next week won’t involve so many late work nights (fingers crossed).