“Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don’t Fire Us”

Catchy headline (2013).  (article here)  The magic date is 2025 when “they” can build a computer with the processing power of the human brain.

Scared?  Well, our brain is a learning machine and so far the attempt to get computers to learn has not gone so well. NYU professor Michio Kaku put it in perspective, here. Some funny lines, but his main point was that the current state of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is about that of a retarded cockroach.  Maybe in 50 years or so, but there are lots of obstacles to overcome.

Do you remember all of those film clips showing early attempts for flying machines?  Most were attempting to mimic birds by flapping their wings.  Folks spent countless hours trying to figure out how to increase “flap-speed” and make the whole airplane strong enough to do it.

Seemed a reasonable approach at the time, but looking back, it was clearly wrong.

Here’s my take.  Computers are really good at things humans are horrible at and vice versa.  So consider advancements along the lines of things computers do well.

Computers: Good at calculating and retrieving information. Horrible at thinking or judging what’s right/wrong.

Humans: Good (sometimes!) at thinking and judging. Horrible at calculating and retrieving information. Plus we hate doing it.

So no problem, right?  Not exactly.  Think of any job.  What part of it is just routine, tedious, and repeatable.  That part may go away and soon.   There are lots of economic incentives to make that all happen.

It’s clear that computer controlled machines will have a huge impact on our lives.  There will be lots of “panic-type” articles and warnings from experts.  Many will just be from the doom & gloom industry trying to increase it’s publicity market share.  But it’s happening and the rate of change will increase.

How about we get ourselves, our kids, and our grandkids ready to deal with this future.  How about our public schools?  Will they help?  Sure, but the current emphasis on the “it’s really easy and fun” approach isn’t going to change soon — the current regulatory environment makes it very difficult to innovate.

School classes have a goal of the students passing tests. Higher scores enhance the reputation of both teachers and schools. That’s OK for background information, but not for actually becoming a competent programmer.  You have to be able to actually write the program and get it to run on a real computer.  It’s a craft.  Just passing tests doesn’t cut it.

The real world awaits.  Actually, it doesn’t “wait”.  It’s all happening now and we all better get ready.  There will be so many opportunities — most, we can’t even think of now.

Remember the first cell phone?  Look now. Who would have thought?  Betcha it will be the same with robotics.

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