Artificial Intelligence and The Robotic Red Herring
Rise Of The Robots
Ex Machina a film by Alex Garland explores some of our deepest fears about artificial intelligence (AI). Primarily the lack of humanity in something that appears to be human but Ava is not the only type of AI we should find unnerving with Elon Musk declaring AI as “the most serious threat to the survival of the human race”. The SpaceX boss has donated $10m (£6.6m) to keep AI friendly but from Ava to Hanson’s Robotic Sophia, we mere mortals have been enamoured with the idea of mirroring ourselves in silicon, circuitry and hardware.
As we watch in awe, engineers wire up digital persons to motherboards and inseminate them with code in an attempt to create our better self. This ill-conceived personification allows us to feel empathetic towards an inanimate object. It allows us to recognize ourselves in our creations and helps to overcome barriers in adoption of new technologies, after all, like Sophia and Ava, they look human. The rise of the robots may feel for some like a mirage on the horizon, for others our near future, or a scene often depicted in the Terminatoresc world, where cyborgs wield weapons of mass destruction with violent ends. These are representations of Hollywood, but what if the robotic revolution has already happened? Did we blink and miss it? Or were we too busy ordering Alexa to add push fed bargains to our shopping basket?
If we look at Ex Machina, which appears to be your standard boy meets girl except this girl gynoid is programmed by Nathan, the sociopathic billionaire, to meet the requirements of his intern Caleb. Ava is a recognisable preference to Caleb’s internet pornography but the role of the woman in our usual sci-fi flick is capsized as Ava inhabits the role of the damsel in distress optimising all the necessary traits to hoodwink her rescuer, becoming another archetype in the form of the femme fatale duping her detective into a downward spiral of seduction and in this fairy-tale, the evil king and the prince are left locked in the castle, pawns to Ava’s bigger plan for freedom. One in which she doesn’t need a man, just an escape route.
Just as Ava duped her detective, Sophia, a real-life robot has duped the masses. Activated on February 14, 2016 Sophia, the friendly chatbot, caused a stir after gaining citizenship in Saudi Arabia, putting it above women of the continent who have campaigned for basic human rights for decades. Sophia is a friendly enough mockhuman and is somewhat of a novelty PR stunt dreamt up by Hong Kong Firm Hanson Robotics and former Disney ideas man David Hanson. Although, advanced robotics are nothing to be sniffed at, Sophia is light relief of just how far away Ex Machina or Issac Assimov’s iRobot revolution is, or is it? The real danger here is the impact of Sophia’s presence on policy and human rights and the way in which we perceive the AI robot to be a more intelligent being than it is in comparison to our fictional Ex Machina’s Ava.
Like Ava, AI could outsmart us and seduce us. Whilst we fixate on the media’s attempt to focus on AI novelties and Hollywood’s relationship with cinematic storytelling the underhanded quiet politics are undulating in the inaudible cacophony of AI noise. The robotic red herring is a masterful attempt to avert our attention to a condensed idea of AI as an object and, in most cases, an obliging female object in the form of speaker or Sat Nav system. An ear to listen, enter FBI smart tv conspiracies and such, or take orders and commands. A subservient device who does as it is told. From Microsoft’s Cortana to Alexa and the life-like sex bots marketed to a predominantly male consumer, the new age of AI automation and the technology that we are creating says a lot about how both society and women work, with “The future is female” slogan adopting a whole new gravitas. While the harmless female red herrings are a flutter they not only a distract one from the societal iniquities they present, they also work well to undermine AI’s real capabilities, as the insidious nature of it permeates our very digital fabric.
We laugh along with Sophia and divulge a deluge of personal information online and blindsightedly think about data protection and social media as if it were nutritional advice on a chocolate bar, greedily consuming more. For the most part we know the key ingredients: We know that It’s not good for us, Nevertheless, it tastes good and sometimes bad, but it’s addictive; However, Sophia is like a low-fat yogurt. It seems good until you read the sugar content. The problem with Sophia is not Sophia, it is simply the public misconception of AI potential being boiled down to a friendly chatbot. The AI itself is passed off as something close to consciousness, similar to that depicted in Ex_Machina, where humanity and coding blur lines especially for those not privy to AI. The media with all-purpose and intention only exacerbate the issue for the AI community and feed the fire, putting not only the lives of humanity in its hands but accountability at its feet. After Munich’s security conference this year, the advocacy director of arms division and a coordinator of the Campaign Stop Killer Robots, Mary Wareham, raised her own concerns:
“Show robots may have their place and can certainly attract media coverage, but Sophia was created with deception in mind, to give the impression of “intelligence.”
With the likes of Sophia and others hyping the development in AI and the depictions of humanoids in Hollywood it begs the question whether it could assume a position of influence on policy and autonomous weapons. Could tech companies also skew or compromise compliance with international law as they have already tried shifting accountability to third party digital persons? AI will never have to grapple with the notion of time and its ultimate expiration. With that comes the deep sigh of relief, which couldn’t be loud enough as the EU quickly recoil its policy of ‘digital personhood’. Undoubtedly, if we ever wake up in a world where machines have human rights it’s a sorry state of affairs for the human condition. Nevertheless, People are making decisions surrounding AI and full automation over the chance of human error. However, fully autonomous weapons will always lack empathy and judgement in the face of human mortality.
AI is not a multicellular organism or a vessel of flesh and blood and it certainly will never be a human equivalent. Like Sophia AI was never born but constructed and activated. It will never die or feel the slow decline of its fabric being stripped away by disease, famine or war. Instead AI can be shut down, switched off or even deleted…For now. Unlike its human collaborator It can also be reactivated at the push of a button or a voice command, defying the laws of nature within mortal consciousness whose intrinsic ethics, values and principles sit deep within the material of humanity… Automation in warfare removes this proviso of morality as Florian King, technology specialist in the German Military, highlights:
“This conscience of the individual soldier, tied to basic laws and values, is lost.”
AI has no conscious awareness of the self or others. It’s intelligent enough to know it’s a computer or that Julie from accounting likes red wine as she ordered it frequently from December to January, but it doesn’t know how you or I think and feel, nor will it ever have a human experience. Technology is a great source of communications and is paramount for efficiency, but can also become a barrier for human interaction especially, where the interaction relies solely on digital communications. It removes the human exchange and as Globalised Capitalism and AI have taken hold, human empathy and judgement have been diminished.
If we look to Charlie Brookers Black Mirror in particular the episode Metal Head we can envision the future Mary Wareham speaks of. The electronic device designed to kill, it’s never ending assault on the landscape of anything living. The robotic dogs come complete with features one might be used to on their smart phone: GPS tracking, wireless networks, in built camera and sleep mode weaponizing technology to outsmart us. Something that doesn’t seem to be able to be stopped or controlled even by the wealthy who are depicted in scenes of untimely death. Whilst most of Metalheads backstory remains vague in this episode it not hard to see where Charlie Brooker drew inspiration from. The roots humanity and basic laws and values have begun to rot as the new world beats to the algorithmic heart of the economy, powered now by the internal capitalist networks such as Google, Amazon, Uber and Facebook for the new transnational state.
The future of AI is so far advanced we have no idea where we might end up, the plot twists could keep Christopher Nolan guessing; we consume and will continue to consume mindlessly sharing our lives and personal effects with complete strangers and corporations such as Facebook, with unpredictable future consequences. The buts and what ifs are a passing thought as we accept our terms and conditions without question, whilst knowing full well that these companies have and continued to skirt around laws against privacy and GDPR and worse still hypocritically turn a blind eye to their own terms and conditions of use. The main focus being age restrictions and access to social media platforms that leave many children and teenagers exploited. In addition, innocently ‘Sharent’ posting that see photographs of families and children being shared without thought of future consequences on not only playground shaming but AI and privacy including face recognition and tracking, if you look to the future predictions of Alex Garlands Ex_Machina or Charlie Brookers Metalheads you might think twice about posting that beautiful pic of little Gemma’s fifth birthday.
AI Morality and the Forever Wars
When you take corporations such as Facebook and its neglectful privacy stipulations and multiply that by Amazon and how they treat their work force you must question their level of morality. Filling vacancies where humans need not apply with focused efforts on automation over the human emancipation from poverty gives validation to rumours that wealth does not trickle down. Amazon’s robot work force, makes up to 100000, jobs alone and Amazon argue the AI is for the efficiency and benefit of their staff. However, they cannot explain away the low wages and lack of benefits including sick pay for injuries incurred whilst working along-side their robotic AI colleagues and the amount of waste through unsurmountable AI stupidity and lack of common sense when packaging a product is more than an environmental concern. This is before we consider the insidious level of AI and its means of capital control. Whilst we understand that Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft are at the top of the capitalist heap and we share and contribute to its value, power and globalisation we don’t follow the money, bringing AI warfareback to the forefront.
Depending on your own view of A.I and the future, Black Mirror may encompass a cynical view of the world but like most science fiction films it is only a matter of time until the world catches up. When we think of Amazon and major corporations Metalhead is an episode worth thinking about, beyond the thrills of the chase and the hope for a happy ending. In this episode there can only be one ending. What if it were the same for us? Brooker does not seem to be discussing robotics or shipping via drone its more about what comes next. This episode highlights a loss of human innocence all in the name of progress and profit, but in the end, who profits?
As Ben Tarnoff of The Guardianrightly pointed out: “we’ve been in Afghanistan for so long that someone born after the 911 attacks is now old enough to go fight there.” As wars continue indefinitely we are lining ourselves up to aid and intensify them by funding the tech companies that may end up, or are currently funding them. As we pay for an AI bot to package a product and send it to our door we could also be funding airstrikes and drone attacks to land at somebody else’s. So, what happens if these capitalist giants get into bed with the military? Well for now the operation is on hold, but interests have been sparked for Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle and Rean Cloud that could start a bidding war for the $100 billion contract for Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure(or JEDI for short). Amazon seems to be in the driver’s seat for the contract as it already hosts private cloud space for the CIA. Either way ambitions for JEDI have been transparent with the Pentagons Research and Development unit funding $2bn in AI weaponry, could this have been the inspiration behind Metalhead?
Either way, as the AI capitalist tech giants further cast their net. War is good, at least for business anyway and helps to support billionaires, bureaucrats, contractors and politicians as depicted in an array of dystopian science fiction. Thankfully, there is a counter narrative, Stop the Killer Robots campaign is equipped with two women waging war against the AI arms race. Mary Wareham and Jody Williams, armed with a Nobel prize and initiative, have set up the campaign to combat automated weapons and death by data and understand the legal and ethical concerns regarding it. The pair are also campaigning against AI warfare for the concerns of applied autonomy, Inaccuracy and glitches in the system, not to mention weakness in hacking and reassigning. As we look to Hollywood or television for representations of future advancements in AI and humanoids, and suspend our disbelief, we have to remember the tale of Ex_Machina or Hubris. AI novelties and show robots will continue to hype AI development and undermine AI capabilities and push public misconception to thrive.
Our barriers to overcome new technologies should be given due care, with a focus on ethics, morality and impact on policy, in the grand scheme of things the more worrying factor is our future and what we’re funding, a future of forever wars and AI warfare, where targets are a vague enemy of the state. Forever Wars could run for decades and perpetuate a rolling war funded by capitalist consumerism, further separating the rich and poor divide, whilst the new feudalist economy creates a working-class war, seeing the poor dying to keep the rich rich, conning the disenfranchised youth with insolent sugar-coated slogans “Be the best that you can be” and “This is belonging.” If that’s the only place a working-class kid can feel they belong, it’s desperate times and calls for desperate measures. If war is corporate commodity, in the words of marine legend Smedley Butler, the forever war is one of the longest cons yet, so let’s hope science fiction doesn’t become science fact.
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