The future is here… ish

Anthony Caruana
31 August, 2017
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When I was a kid, and even now as an adult, the Star Trek universe seemed like the apex of human civilisation. Humanity explored the cosmos; disease, famine and poverty were done with; no one worried about the accumulation of wealth and computers could do almost anything.

I recall passing a construction site when I was walking home from school and collecting offcuts of electrical wires and planning to use them to build my own computer. I had an elaborate plan that involved so many blinking lights, switches and wires – all I needed was some ‘venture capital’ from the Bank of Dad.

Today, at least from the IT point of view, many of the tasks assigned to the Enterprise‘s computer can be done from the iPhone in my pocket or the Mac or iPad in my bag. I’m actually typing this on an iPad somewhere on the Western Highway as my fiancée drives us to Halls Gap. I can stay connected and assemble the newsletter from the car using the iPad’s cellular data connection, and we’re sure we won’t be lost by using Maps on an iPhone.

But one thing does concern me about technology (well, more than one, really, but I’ll focus on one today). We place a lot of trust in our technology. I attended a lunch hosted by the Australian Computer Society yesterday where the topic for discussion was artificial intelligence (AI).

The question I had at the end was one of trust. Assuming AI will become increasingly embedded in our lives, it will make some decisions on our behalf. But what it can’t do is make judgements about right and wrong.

For example, are we ready for cars to decide whether to sacrifice the life of a passenger or pedestrian when faced with a dangerous situation? And if the car makes that choice, could the programmer be sued or charged for that decision? What if you, as a buyer, get to choose the safety algorithms that prioritise one person’s well-being over someone else’s?

The challenge is that technology is outpacing our ability to govern it. I don’t just mean in a legislative sense, which is important, but also in an ethical and a moral sense.

I don’t have answers to any of this, but it has my brain ticking over. What do you think?

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