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  • Writer's pictureMichael Sales

Tech in the 'Cene: Robotics

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

I was recently served by a robot at Brooks’ Burgers in Naples, Florida. It wasn’t quite as spiffy as this one, but it was moving toward a humanoid look.

The wait staff loved it. The robot relieved them of the hassle of having to carry heavy platters and allowed them to be more engaged with customers. It was quite polite. It was approaching me as I got up to go to the washroom, but rather than run headlong right into me, as I feared it might, noticed me and came to a stop, then moved over so that I may walk by.

Source: AP News, ALEKSANDAR FURTULA and RAF Caserta, May 29, 2020

Everyone over 30 at Brooks’ paid close attention to the technological marvel; the people 15-30 looked up, and the kids 10 and under, paid it no mind because they were too wrapped up in their hand devices to notice.

According to Anthropocean Elon Musk, the Artificial Intelligence behind robotics is “dangerous.” Of course, that was in 2017 before Tesla started working on its own humanoid and Elon was still a Democratic voter.

Sentient Beings?

Recently, a Google Engineer, Blake Lemoine, claims he’s been interacting with a sentient robot built on LaMDA (Language Model for Dialog Applications), a proprietary Google program.

In his informative overview of the Lemoine story in Innovation and Tech Today, Aron Vaughan, defines sentient as “self-awareness.” If you know you exist, you do exist. “I think, therefore I am.” If a robot knows it exists, it’s a self-aware entity.

Given that Roe v. Wade was overturned today, one wonders when protections are going to be extended to this new type of being? (I’m not sure that we can call it a “lifeform,” but sentient robots are surely going to be a “something.”) Lemoine and others are already agitating for that sort of recognition and legitimacy. Will granting robots citizenship become an activists cause by 2050? 2030?

Robotics is a thread of “The Singularity.”

National Medal of Technology and Innovation winner, Ray Kurzweil coined the word “Singularity” to describe the explosive growth occurring in computational capacity, as computer, genetic, nanotechnology, robotic, and AI technologies are demonstrating daily. The moment that computational power equals or exceeds the ability of the human brain, people may well become the slaves to the IT devices many thought would be slaves to us!

This is a depressing prospect to me, a card-carrying and aging flower child. Here I was expecting the Aquarian Age and, instead, I’m getting Robbie the Robot rolled up with The Terminator and a disembodied Her!

Ray Kurzweil Source: The Verge

Kurzweil was the keynote speaker at a World Future Society assembly where I was one of the leaders of a scenario workshop around 2000. He spoke to an audience of well over 1,000. He talked about his father’s death at 58 and how that had such a powerful impact on him. The younger Kurzweil was about 55 at the time of his talk. He spoke about life extension possibilities and technologies and described his daily regimen involving his consumption of something like 250 dietary supplements. He was not a One-a-Day vitamin kind of guy.

Even brilliant scientists make predictions that don’t always come true.

He said he’d recently seen his physician, who remarked that he didn’t look a day over 35. Being about the same age as Kurzweil, I didn’t have the same impression of Ray’s condition. I turned to my colleague and said, “He needs to get another doctor.” As far as I was concerned, he looked every bit his age. I’m not remembering the sequence of events perfectly, but I believe it was the next year that Kurzweil, who suffers from diabetes and high cholesterol, was hospitalized and nearly died. I point these recollections out because even brilliant scientists make predictions that don’t always come true.

Nitpicking reservations aside, advances such as those reflected in the recent Google story provide ample evidence that something like Singularity is coming into view. For example, the size of the global robotics marketplace is expected to be well over $170bn by 2027 with personal robotics constituting approximately 30% of that volume. These powerful technology trends are very unlikely to be reversed. In the 2030 remake of “My Fair Lady,” Professor Henry Higgins may be addressing a robot when he ends the show with, “Eliza, where are my slippers!”

This note is only a slight foray into a theme that will be recurring in this adventure story about the Anthropocene. Technology’s influence and capabilities are gaining strength and power constantly. As The Beatles stated at the close of A Day in the Life, “Everything is going up!” The pace of change is accelerating into hyperspeed and probably into hyperspace.

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