7.19.2004

I used to read a lot of Isaac Asimov short stories when I was a kid so I was looking forward to checking out I Robot. I saw it last night and even my non-geek friends really liked it. We had an interesting discussion about the future of the economy when robots take most of our jobs. The word robot makes you think "not in my lifetime" but companies don't like to use words like Artificial Intelligence or Robot to describe their products. The recent Outsourcing backlash was the tip of the iceberg. Most of the jobs were lost due to productivity gains but people were more comfortable blaming the problem on Indian sweatshop workers. Companies wisely don't say AI or robot, they say "Process Automation" It's the same idea that brought us terms like Sanitary Engineer.

Legions of unemployed aren't going to vote Republican. Even God-fearing anti government types aren't going to vote for a wealth divider like GW if they've been unemployed for months. The Democrats are going to have two options: Lie and tell everybody that they can create new jobs or they can raise taxes on the wealthy. Capitalism is like Baseball. Nobody wants to play if the Yankees win every year, hence the luxury tax. Baseball might be a harbinger of things to come in the larger economy because the rules aren't supposed to change and innovation is viewed as a threat to tradition(wooden bats). That's not to say there won't be innovation when everything is automated but there won't be the impediments of bloated pensions and hangovers slowing down capitalism. Wealth aggregation shifts into high gear and suddenly we need a luxury tax on corporations.

I had an idea that's probably been thought up before but I'm writing it anyway. The robotic pets being manufactured by Sony like AIBO already have wireless antennas in their tails to communicate with the Internet but all of their logic is processed internally. My idea is to take the robot software and allow it to run on a PC instead of the scaled down computer in the dog. All commands would be tranmitted wirelessly to the dog. This would make the dog cheaper as well as expand it's capabilities to the limits of a home computer. If the dog's brain was Open Sourced it could evolve much faster than if it's brain was under the sole control of the Sony Engineering team.

I sometimes get a weird feeling of euphoria when I'm writing software or reading about things that really interest me. If there ever was something smarter than us, would it need emotions to regulate its own behavior? I get the feeling that the only reason we have "pleasure centers" in our brains is because we haven't yet evolved a sufficient level of logic to keep ourselves alive with logic alone. Instinct is evolution's answer to our stupidity as a species. So a robotic brain would only include emotion as a library it would use to aid in it's ability to communicate effectively with humans. Dry Wit. Double entendre, Dry being the opposite of wet, used in wet machines, a reference to our brains. Would make a good product name too...

OK so if our destiny is an emotionless existence, and by our I mean thinking beings, isn't our future about to get really boring? Would emotion become the drug of really smart AI?

EDIT: Wow just found an interesting quote:
"The limbic system is tightly connected to the prefrontal cortex. It has been conjectured that this connection is related to the pleasure obtained from solving problems. To cure severe emotional disorders, this connection was sometimes surgically severed, a procedure of psychosurgery. Patients who underwent this procedure often became passive and lacked all motivation."

That's exactly what I was wondering about. I get a "high" from learning because of the connection betwen the limbic system and prefrontal cortex. Who would have thunk it. So any working AI system wouldn't care to evolve unless it had a reward system. Apathy doesn't breed curiosity. Pure logic is certainly not a requirement for intelligent life but is it detrimental to it? Genius bordering on insanity?


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