July 26, 2017 – Modern Cassandras

Last week at the U.S. governors’ conference, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX warned the audience, “AI is a fundamental (and) existential risk for human civilization.” He’s not the only very smart and tech savy CEO or scientist that’s saying this – Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft and non-other than the esteemed Stephen Hawking have given the same warning. It is not unusual for new and potentially disruptive (and apocalyptic) technologies to be feared. Examples of this are the airplane, the automobile, and even the computer. This was and will be the case for the future.  It’s interesting that these technologies that bring both benefit and risk can cause such angst.

While neither Elon Musk, nor Bill Gates, or even the brilliant Stephen Hawking can predict the future, they do understand the risks and potential a bit better than the average layman. Many publicly disagree with the esteemed gentlemen listed above. They accuse them of playing upon the fears, biases, and phobias of the public – especially after the legion of movies with killer, self-aware robots out to rid the planet of those pesky humans.

While I’m not sure I’m ready to paint a dystopian future, where machines have replaced humans in the workplace or where machines have become self-aware and thinking on a level at or beyond human cognition. But I am ready to listen to these gentlemen’s warnings. We barely understand how human consciousness is formed and structured – we are also learning that the so-called unused portion of the brain is actually doing something we don’t understand.  Additionally, we are just beginning advanced AI software development considering our significant ignorance regarding the workings of the human brain.  Never the less – it’s not too soon to start thinking about setting limits and listening to our modern Cassandras.

Cassandra was the daughter of King Priam of Troy (yep, that Troy). She warned her father about the upcoming war, and not to let the Greek gift of a horse into the city. She urged her father to burn the horse. She even tried to destroy the horse with an axe and torch before the people of Troy stopped her – mocking her as they restrained her. The rest (as they say) is history.  Maybe Troy could have avoided destruction by trusting Cassandra – and maybe we can escape a possible Terminator XX sequal by trusting the modern Cassandras.

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