Sci-fi and A. I.: or These People Don’t Read or Watch Fiction, Do They?

Back when I was in grad school, I was listening to the NPR news on the way to class, and heard a story about the military meeting with ethics profs to discuss using robots in war, notably autonomous robots. There was some mention of concerns about “rogue A.I.,” and I grinned a little as the closing music clip came on. It was the theme to the first Terminator movie. (That’s also when I discovered that my Advisor didn’t know about things like Terminator. I was mildly surprised.)

I’ve been listening to the last month’s breathless reportage about A.I. and what it can do and how it will eliminate jobs (for what, the tenth time already?) and how perhaps the singularity is coming soon and so on and so forth, and how A.I. will do it all. First, it confirms my belief that 99% of journalists don’t know anything about computers. How to use programs, yes, perhaps, but not how the things work and the basic way programs do their thing. Second, I get the sense that these people have never, ever read dystopian techno-fiction or early cyberpunk, or watched things like Terminator or that TV show for kids (with the interactive way to shoot at the bad robots on the screen.)

Very early on, Isaac Azimov developed the Three Laws of Robotics, and used various short stories and then novels to explore the ramifications of that. the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey guaranteed that no one of a Certain Generation will use “Hal” as a key term for a voice-activated system, unless they are warped. Really warped. When people started talking about how wonderful it would be to have computers in our minds and cybernetic augmentations to our bodies, along came the Cybermen from Doctor Who. And a few other things. All are about computers that got a “wee bit” out of hand, and either decided that humans were superfluous, or that humans were actively antithetical to the computers’ needs and should be eliminated. The Cybermen traded physical survival for their humanity, with really bad results for everyone else around them.

I tend to be untrusting of technology in the first place, so I latched onto the dystopian-technology stories. Yes, computers and bionics and other things could do wonderful things in fiction. But … I’ve had computers die at awkward moments. I’ve had GPS systems get migraines when I really needed them (in the weather, when my hands were full of “first fly the plane”, just as the last ground-based beacon went out of range.) Computers are literal. Yes, we program them to deal with hundreds of variables, and some models for things look very good. But we programmed them. And truly complex systems? Go look at the percentage of success retrocasting weather and climate using climate models and supercomputers. I’ll wait.

So when the latest breathless “A.I will revolutionize writing! It will make cover artists obsolete! It will replace humans for [whatever,]”, I don’t believe them. Artificial intelligence programs are still programs. They adapt and process data quickly, but thus far, they can’t make the leaps people do. They can improve, as MindJourney has with anatomy (although human hands are still a challenge, among other things), but those are programs with inputs and patient corrections. ChatGPT likewise, and as people play with it, it becomes obvious that it can’t analyze literature worth a fig. It is programmed to have a certain bias and to have blind spots, because it’s a program. It’s a creation of humans who want it to have a bias.

Computers and robots work for some things, like delicate and repeating tasks (welding certain things, taking burger orders.) If you have a limited range of parameters, computers and robots are great. “Two beef patties, no lettuce, white cheese, no mayo, and a medium fry” the things can deal with, as long as a person is around to make sure that the right patties went into the hopper and that the other things are where they should be. Writing ad copy? Perhaps, since the psychology of advertising is fairly well known, even if it is not always aimed properly, as recent misadventures have shown.

Aritifical Intelligence dealing with weapons? Autonomous police robots that are programmed to deal with violent crime? Ah, I saw Robocop. I’ve read a few other things too. What one person can program, another can hack and reverse. Or too many variables will overload the system and it will react in ways the programmers didn’t anticipate. You know, like the in-flight computer that did a reboot after the plane experienced turbulence outside the program parameters. The software designers wanted to save space, so they assumed that he plane would never exceed X degrees of bank, Y degrees of roll, and a certain ascent-descent rate in cruise. The plane did (ah, CAT, how I hate thee) and the pilots became passengers until the system rebooted. Rare? Yes. Bad? Very yes!

A. I. is a program, or at least all the A.I. stuff I’ve seen and heard of to date are just programs. They process data quickly, and seem to think, but they don’t. Yet. I still have doubts about them. I’ve read sci-fi. I know what people are like. Terminator is just one possibility.


The Selfie and Video Problem (For certain values of problem)

I once saw a young lady come within about one inch of committing selfie-cide. It was in the Matthias Church on Buda Hill in Budapest. The church was repainted to look a bit more . . . . colorful, if the Medieval color schemes met modern paint brightness. It’s impressive, and well worth wading through tourists to see. We were up on one of the balconies around part of the nave, and this young lady had her phone on a selfie-stick, leaning waaaaaaayyyy back over the edge of the railing to get the best shot of herself against the church. Just to prove that there is a reason for stereotypes, she was East Asian. (This was before selfie-sticks became common.) I wasn’t sure what to do if she started to fall: grab her, or look away so I didn’t have to fill out a witness statement?

She ended up not falling, although it wasn’t for lack of trying. I’d already seen “tourists with cell phones behaving very badly” in other places, most noticeably the Louvre Museum. One woman in particular would shove people out of the way, take a closeup of the art, and move to the next painting. She never looked at the results, or at the art. Everything was seen through the screen on the camera. If she ended up floating face down in the Seine River, I think at least a hundred people would have provided alibis. This was when “if you don’t post a photo, you weren’t really there” was “A Thing” on social media. It did cure me of taking photos in most museums, even when photos are allowed.

Joking aside, people have died from trying to get the perfect selfie, often falling off of cliffs. In some cases, other people tried to stop them, or children saw their parents die. The lack of spatial awareness and failed sense of danger . . . Terrible combination.

Video taking has also become a first-world problem. People are so intent on recording a scene, either for upload to social media for hits, or in order to accuse someone of something, that they get in the way of people trying to help. Or they deliberately get in the way of first-responders, for reasons I won’t go into. I laugh a little at the TV news people who dutifully report protests evaporating and people taking cover as sirens wail . . . and they are standing in the street, speculating if there is a rocket attack in progress. It’s not so funny when people intent on videoing a wreck cause a second one, or block paramedics and fire fighters. Or refuse to help, because the view through the screen is so captivating. Reality retreats behind the screen.

Had I been able to see clearly (had not yet found glasses knocked off by airbag) after the gal totaled my pickup back a few years ago, I’d probably have suggested that she hang up the phone or eat it. As it was, all she was doing was talking, just as she had been when she hit me. If she’d come trotting up to me, filming, or if a third party had come racing up to get pictures, I’m not sure what my response would have been. Impolite, that much I can pretty much guarantee.

The screen isn’t reality. Certain people do not seem to understand that the screen isn’t the real world. At least with traditional film and digital cameras, most people separated themselves from the device, and could put the thing down when needed. (Not that people didn’t do dumb things for and with traditional cameras, but still . . . ) The phone screen mediates between people and the real world, sometimes with fatal results. I chuckle at the Darwin Awards, but it’s not funny for the kids who watched their parents plunge off a cliff, or for the other people around. Or the people who had to recover the bodies and track down next-of-kin. It’s not funny for people involved in a wreck to have their pain and suffering uploaded for video hits. Educational, perhaps.

Instead of leopards and crocodiles thinning the herd, we now have motor vehicles and smart phones.

Well, WordPress has Struck Again

Apparently they decided that being able to flip back and forth between the original “classic” editor style and the new and improved block editor is too much to support, so everything has to start and stay in block editor. Among other things, it means going back to edit posts written in part with the classic editor function is nigh unto impossible without a fair amount of handwavium and irritation (on my side. I’m sure there’s a quick fix on the other side of the display).

Among other things that seem to have gone away is the Read More bar, which allowed me to post small excerpts on the screen, so that more posts could appear on the front page. I find that absence most irritating, because I don’t like having to scroll through a wall-o-text, and I suspect my readers are similar. Nor do I like having everything out in the open if people are not interested in a topic or if there is salty language or mature ideas in something.

The “new” editor was apparently designed for commercial or graphics heavy blogs where you have chunks of text and lots of images, with links to pages. That doesn’t suit my needs all that well, but right now I have to balance, time, money, and what have you.

So, I’ll adapt, and I apologize for walls-of-text and other things, until I can figure out how to work around these improvements.

Owner Resistant?

Note that I did not type “owner proof.” Depending on the owner, nothing can be made owner proof. I went through five different styles and materials of eyeglasses frames before I found some that were Alma resistant. I’ve been using those same frames for *coughcough* years now, and I weep for the day when it finally becomes impossible to find parts or fit lenses into them. Partly because the newest versions cost over $500/pair, plus lenses. Owch! Continue reading

The Limits of Technology

I was reading an article about all the electronic wonders in a small aircraft (pilot plus three [skinny and short] passenger small), including dual IFR-rated navigation systems and the assorted displays that go with them. It reminded me of listening to an instructor extol the wonders of a training aircraft with such a complicated Flight Management System (FMS) that the student needed 10 hours of dual instruction in a simulator learning how to work the FMS before the first training flight. I’ve flown the older, non-FMS versions of that aircraft. The only thing students didn’t handle on their first flight was the propeller control [gear shift], and that was only because the owner of the plane had stipulated it.

I think we’re reaching the point of diminishing returns in training aircraft and electronics, at least for the casual pilot. Continue reading