I’m kind of glad my grandmother has passed on. She didn’t have to deal with Watson sullying her favorite TV program, and I didn’t have to deal with demystifying our “new computer overlords” (i.e.: “No, this monstrosity has nothing to do with your social services. No, I don’t think it can make you a sandwich. And, yes, it might one day kill us all.”). Watching Watson’s performance on Jeopardy left me with an odd feeling. As if Kubrick got it right, I felt I was staring at a HAL 9000 – not at its “batshit-bent-on-killing-these-dumb-humans” tip, but its original “Daisy Bell” stage. We were captivated and entertained by the Watson system. This milestone in artificial intelligence, well, straight up dookies all over our (at least mine) expectations of what these heartless beasts can do.
Listen. I’m not really a techno-pessimist. This fascinates me to no end.
We got a machine that toasts sliced bread, and it even tells you when it’s finished! Do you realize how baller that is? Not only that, but we poo in porcelain bowls. PORCELAIN BOWLS. How godly have we become? Years ago we’d just settle by a nice tree or riverside and just drop those deuces with no thought. And don’t even trip, because at one point toilet paper didn’t even exist. Someone got sick of their swamp butt and probably picked up a leaf and started wiping (how do you think we really found out about poison ivy?). And finally we sit at the zenith of our creation, we have knowledge at our fingertips – and it’s called the Internet. Now we got Watson who can access all of this information quicker and concisely (by the way, it was disconnected from the Internet during the show – but it did have Wikipedia saved up in itself).
Because you shouldn’t trust what I’m saying, check out this blurb from The Atlantic:
AI capability may start out by being built into the productivity applications used by workers, but over time, it will evolve to the point that these applications can perform much of the work autonomously: AI will become a tool for managers rather than workers. The result is likely to be substantial job losses for knowledge workers and a flattening of organizational charts that will eliminate large numbers of middle managers. (The impact of automation will, of course, be in addition to that of offshoring.) Many of these people will be highly educated professionals who had previously assumed that they were, because of their skills and advanced educations, beneficiaries of the trend toward an increasingly technological and globalized world.
– Martin Ford: Artificial Intelligence Is the Next Killer App
So now what? I’m down for a computer to aid in the butt-wiping process. But lord, do I fear the day when our robot masters will be the ones wiping us. (You like that joke? Yeah, I know you did. Holler.)