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Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.

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The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Robotic Scouts -- Ready to Penetrate Enemy Territory and Seize... Your Job!

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This article from Wired discusses:
...the challenge facing robots currently being developed by the U.S. Air Force.

Rather than maneuver driverless through miles of rough desert terrain, these will have to find their way into underground bunkers, map unknown facilities in three dimensions and identify what's in them while avoiding detection -- all without any human control.

This is well beyond the capability of any existing system, but the Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is putting its hopes on new software that lets robots learn, walk, see and interact far more intelligently than ever before.

It's based on work by Stephen Thaler, who came to prominence 10 years ago with his brainchild the Creativity Machine. This is software for generating new ideas
on the basis of existing ones, and it has already written music, designed soft drinks, and discovered novel minerals that may rival diamonds in hardness.

Obviously, there are two points to consider here. First, that we are developing robots not only capable of operating without human oversight, but robots capable of independently handling some pretty complex tasks. That's important, because the more complex the work robots can do without oversight, the more we can eliminate human beings from the equation in more and more work environments.

Remember, there are plenty of jobs that while not incredibly demanding on your intellect, nevertheless have traditionally required a live human being's judgement somewhere in the loop. For example, driving large trucks. If you can develop a system which can handle those basic driving challenges -- changes of route, aggressive drivers, flat tires, etc -- and which requires no rest stops, paychecks or health insurance, then you can replace every cargo truck driver in the country with a machine.

This level of decision-making ability threatens the jobs of whole classes of people, just as automation has subtracted vast numbers of workers (per unit of output) from the manufacturing industry over the years.

The other point is that the technical achievements of systems like Thaler's Creativity Machine threaten not just relatively straightforward blue collar jobs, but many creativity demanding jobs now held by run-of-the-mill engineers, inventors and scientists. If "ordinary scientists and inventors" and other research people can have their jobs automated away as well, then those people are either going to have to "raise their game" to compete on a level where the machines can't -- which is evidently still quite possible, especially with regards to inventions whose nature and parameters can not be easily defined by other humans ahead of time -- or seek employment elsewhere.

I believe it is possible to enhance human performance dramatically, even using those methods and technologies already available, much less those about to emerge from the pipeline. But this is an area in which getting started early and using effective tools from the start is a critical advantage, and one which more people in technical pursuits should be trying to utilize.

AI, Tech
Future Imperative

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