Who’s flying this drone?

By on March 1st, 2015 in Societal Impact

Looking out for humankind as intelligent technologies take charge

Guest Blog post by Jeanne Dietsch, Founder, Sapiens Plurum.

Until recently, I was an unmitigated technophile. Back in 1980, just after the first Apple PC was introduced, I tried to write a thesis on “The Future of the Computer as a Mass Medium.” My Master’s committee unanimously declared that such a thing would never occur. Two tech start-ups later, I was jeered onstage by London telecom executives because I predicted that Internet commerce would grow by 1000% over the next 5 years. And indeed I was wrong… on the low side.

More and more futurists now find themselves on the conservative side of reality. Consider these startling examples of actuality exceeding expectation: 1) Researchers stunned their compatriots by “solving” Texas Hold’em Poker, including probabilistic reasoning and bluffing strategies. Software cued with nothing but the rules of the game and monetary loss aversion became unbeatable by playing more hands of poker during two years than all humankind throughout the history of the game. Michael Bowling and colleagues now expect to optimize any constrained process with a clear outcome in the same massively parallel manner. 2) Researchers at the University of Washington can now play videogames telepathically. Using off-the-shelf tech, a videogame viewer controls a viewless player’s hand just by thinking about it. And Washington insiders hint US DoD has been performing similar studies for some time. 3) Nanobots will actually be tested this year to find and destroy cancerous cells and repair damaged ones. Projections that such minute machines would collaborate to keep us alive “forever” previously lay in the distant mists.

Since I sold our intelligent robotics start-up in 2010, I have been studying the accelerating evolution of technology. The tectonic tremors building up alarm not only me, but physicist Stephen Hawking, inventor Elon Musk, MIT professor Max Tegmark and thousands of others who signed Max’s open letter Research Priorities for Robust and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence. And it is not just AI, but its combination with other radical advances that portends vast, almost unimaginable change… and benefits. The question, as always, is: benefits for whom? Who’s driving this drone and where is it headed?

We know that military, political and economic gain will set its course unless someone creates a vision with loftier goals. Our challenge, then, is how to intervene to keep humankind, and human kindness, in the pilot’s seat, and piloting software. This is the reason I started Sapiens Plurum (the wisdom of many). Sapiens Plurum advocates for the interests of humankind in a world of increasingly powerful technology. The strategy behind Sapiens Plurum and Sapiens Plurum News assumes that any top-down policy consensus will be too little, too late, and largely unenforceable. By instead working to educate the general public, in particular, the young, we hope to create a demand-side force that will create bottom-up norms for humane and human-enhancing technologies. Hence, our priorities are to:

  1. Help people understand the potential impact of rising technologies on their lives
  2. Encourage people to choose technologies that put them in control to improve our lives
  3. Advocate for technologies that benefit humankind rather than exploit them

Can you help us by disseminating awareness at your organization or joining ours? We are seeking volunteer regional leaders and board members at SapiensPlurum.org.

About the Author: Jeanne Dietsch was founder and CEO of MobileRobots Inc. She served on the IEEE Industrial Activities Board of RAS 2007-2011 and wrote a column for IEEE Robotics & Automation magazine 2009-2012. She is a Harvard graduate in sci-tech policy, a group-thinking facilitator and founder of Sapiens Plurum, an advocacy organization looking out for the interests of humankind.

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