On the Eerie Uncertainty of AI by William Alan Rieser

We’ve certainly come a long way since Blaise Pascal invented the calculator in the 17th century. Newton discovered that apples and anvils descend upon toads at the same speed. Franklin incinerated an unnamed assistant and gave us electricity. Vladimir Zworykin left us the electric eye and television so that we can spy on everything and everybody. Theodore Maiman’s laser has significantly improved roadkill sandwich making time and both Tesla and Einstein have made the entire earth shudder at what man is capable of doing. Many a scientific innovation is due to an SF writer’s having expounded the possibility in his imagination first, like submarines, airplanes and those erstwhile robots.

If you are expecting a forced infusion of artificial intelligence to resolve your difficulties with friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers, you will be sorely disappointed when I tell you that the technology is incompatible with human beings, somewhat akin to common sense. I think the first video was Forbidden Planet where Robby the Robot was introduced, showing incredible strength, amazing sensors, defensive weaponry, halting linguistics, the ability to reproduce tons of bourbon and an ungainly walk. But now we have Data, from a Star Trek derivative, who seems to emulate the ultimate in AI possibilities, so much so that even the Borg are jealous.

Real technology has actually gone further than you might suspect. Remember Dick Tracey’s two way wrist radio? We have that now and better because Zworykin’s iconoscope tube has been improved with the liquid crystal display. Flat panel tech has evolved to the point where a MOSFET (metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistor) is attached to every pixel inside the nematic fluid matrix where it can be biased by very low voltages, addressed by a controller and assigned colors. The new chronographs are even more evolved than the one worn by Predator in that they are capable of generating a holographic image.

The transistor alone was an amazing feat, originally a nun who underwent a sex change operation. Now they’ve expanded to the point where ten or more millions of them form tiny microprocessors, the basis of even newer ideas. Remember the first Star Trek movie where Bones commented on the alien Ileya, saying that her body was formed of molecule sized multiprocessor chips? Guess what? They’re here, capable of being biased by photons, rather polarized light with enough memory available to allow for speech recognition, retina scans and everything else needed to make intimate, personal, infinitesimal CPUs to wear on our bodies. That means we are in for a radical change, possibly a godlike alteration, in the near future.

You’ll be able to seek counseling from a friend who will never repeat it to anyone, shop with real authority at the right places, knowing how much to spend, how to get there and back home and analyze prospective close encounters without revealing anything of yourself. The possibilities are endless, especially if you position the CPU in a sneaky place on your person. Consider the digital orgasm. Heck, you’ll have legions at your command, ready to build you a force field if needed or arm you with neutron technology, whereby you can destroy all life in a city yet leave the paintings of Jackson Pollack intact. We’ll all be super beings, capable of attracting really dangerous fun aliens.

Unless, of course, Sigourney Weaver is still around being chased by her beasties, the ones who don’t respond to robotics or AI. That would be a neat trick. I suppose it’s a matter of direction when you get right down to it. Are we going to clone a bunch of Data-like fellows, servants nonpareil, or are we headed toward a society of Terminators? It’s a heady decision and I think we need to examine it rather closely with real human intelligence, for once, before we allow machines to achieve self-awareness and recognize our insignificance.

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Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 William Alan Rieser, All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

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