Posts Tagged ‘Isaac Asimov’

Letter From New York 09 01 2016 From the Creek, thinking about space…

September 1, 2016

When I was a young boy, I was a voracious reader.  I devoured Greek myths and stories of ancient Egypt.  When night came, I would hide under my covers and read Tom Swift books by flashlight.  Finding that ineffective, I convinced my parents I was terrified of the dark so they let me keep a light on.  It made reading so much easier.

I discovered Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. The first time I read the Foundation Trilogy by Asimov I loved it but didn’t quite understand it all.  The third time I reveled in his artistry in creating a universe.  I still, once and again, read Heinlein’s “Citizen of the Galaxy.”

In later years, friends and I would gather and watch “Star Trek,” at an age when we would enhance the experience with cannabis.  I have looked toward the stars.  When the Challenger exploded, I was driving down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles and nearly rear ended the car in front of me in my shock.

Yesterday Elon Musk’s Space X rocket, during a test, exploded, destroying not just itself but also a satellite Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg had invested in to bring internet to Africa.

It is unlikely I will meet Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg.  And I credit them for using their wealth and technology to work to expand our efforts toward space.  It’s always been my belief that we, as a race, need to long beyond now to something more.

We have conquered this planet.  Maybe to its detriment, but there is little left undiscovered here and so much undiscovered beyond the gravitational fields of this planet.

Okay, I am a great supporter of space exploration.  I think we need it as a species.  We’re, as humans, driven to look for more.  Always been that way and hope it will always be that way.

When I was young, I was in a theater troupe and we all stopped that night in 1969 to watch the landing on the moon.

In my life, I’ve met the famous and the once famous and have never asked for an autograph.  Except when I met Buzz Aldrin, 2nd man on the moon.  It’s framed, in my study.

Okay, I have now exposed myself as a space geek.

And I admire, no matter what we think of them, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Richard Branson of Virgin everything, and Elon Musk of Tesla and Space X, for wanting to take us out there.

Since we retired the Space Shuttles we have no way of bringing personnel to the International Space Station so we use the Russians.  But Elon Musk’s company has brought supplies there for a fraction of the cost of other means.

It is my belief that we need to be looking outward because looking outward gives us, the human race, a sense of hope in the future and it is the hope of a future that has propelled us from the caves to here.

Letter From New York 01 28 15 Pondering Artificial Intelligence

January 28, 2015

Heading down to New York, the train is running alongside the Hudson River, a sheet of white as yesterday’s snow accumulated on the river’s ice. The sun gleams down, reflecting enough that it causes eyes to squint when looking out. It is a scene of rough beauty.

In the city tonight, there will be a reunion of several of us who worked on some programs together for the Discovery Times Channel during its brief and glorious moment. Two of the people, Jon Alpert and Matt O’Neill, have gone on to be nominated twice for Academy Awards for their documentaries. Diana Sperrazza is still at Discovery, working as an Executive Producer for the Investigation Discovery Channel.

We don’t get together often so this is a special occasion.

I will slip into the city today and will probably head home tomorrow or at the latest early Friday.

Traversing south I am passing the mightiness that is West Point, a severe redoubt on the opposite bank. It is hard to be tired of this ride, one of the most beautiful in America according to most who categorize such things.

Along with the NY Times, I often check out the stories on my phone’s BBC app, an interesting re-cap of news with a British perspective. The story I found this morning most interesting was one that was headlined: AI will not kill us, says Microsoft.

How can one resist that kind of headline?

I couldn’t.

Eric Horovitz, Microsoft’s Research Chief, has an opinion markedly in contrast with some others, including physicist Stephen Hawking and entrepreneur Elon Musk, both of who are warning that Artificial Intelligence could supersede us and destroy us. Hawking has said that AI could “spell the end of the human race.” Musk has put up ten million dollars to prevent it from happening.

We are experiencing this first wave of artificial intelligence in things such as Siri, the voice-activated assistant on our iPhones or Contana on Windows Phones, which will be integrated into the next version of the Windows OS. There is a little device from Amazon called the Echo, which comes equipped with Alexa. She is the subject of an article in today’s USA Today, outlining her benefits and her limitations.

My friends, Lionel and Pierre, have an Echo and I’ve been getting to know Alexa the last couple of weeks. She’s very friendly. Her voice is silkier than Siri and she plays music well. She answers basic questions but you can’t have a conversation with her the way one could with Data, the humanoid robot of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

But you can sense it’s coming.

It’s both exciting and a little eerie. We are getting tastes of things that will come. And come they will. Because we can make them happen, we will make them happen. One day we’ll be having a conversation with Alexa’s descendants and the next they may be plotting to rid the planet of the messiness of humans. People like Horovitz suspect that one-day machines will be self-aware and where will we be then?

Back to Stephen Hawking, who has said, “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.” That’s a sobering thought: being superseded. Elon Musk thinks, “With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon.” Ouch!

Mephistopheles, get away!

According to the BBC, Sir Clive Sinclair, inventor of the Spectrum Computer, believes it is unavoidable that artificial intelligences will wipe out mankind. Double ouch!

But can AI appreciate the wonders of a ride down the Hudson River the way I can? We don’t know that yet. If they become self-aware, perhaps they will.

Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov had his robots built with three unbreakable rules. “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.”

I wonder if those who are developing AI have thought about including The Three Laws into their work? Might be a safeguard from The Terminator.