Sunday, 13 March 2016

Athens regained?

Planting season is now in full swing, so it is far from certain I will be get to the BCS talk this week on AI.  That is a disappointment for me as I was working in AI in the 1990's and was an external supervisor for a couple of Ph.D. candidates.

The topic has been more prominent in the press the last year than it has for some time.  I have been collecting  articles and snippets.  It is not uncommon to see heightened press coverage of  paradigm changing technology when the economy is in difficulty.  It is the sort of jam tomorrow promise that those who are dazzled by the delights of growth cling to when recession  abounds.   But there is real potential here, it isn't just vapourware.

One of the reasons the various techniques of AI were very useful when I was working in the field still pertain.  It can quickly identify a good enough answer to an otherwise unsolvable problem.  That is often the case in scheduling and timetabling  where they may be no solution that satisfies all constraints.  It is certain the case in aspects of fluid mechanics (which is where I was applying AI) since the fundamental Navier-Stokes equation has not been solved mathematically.

Of course things have changed over a quarter of a century.  Certainly machine learning has advanced significantly.    Go is a game that has too many possibilities to be practically determinable, so the fact the Google's DeepMind AlphaGo recently could beat the world champion demonstrates that.  The machine learnt  by playing against itself.

I doubt anyone has much in the way of reservation about AI being used to solve such otherwise difficult to impossible problems. The worries come from a different branch of the discipline - autonomous behaviour and control systems.  This is where we have started to see human like presentation and behaviours from machines.  There is even an hotel in Japan effectively run by human like automata.  (I dislike calling them robots, because we've had robotics for many years on factory floors  - they are brilliant but they are not what most people imagine when referring to robots).

The issue is when we defer executive action to machines. In effect we surrender control. Some of the systems I worked on were presented quite deliberately as decision support systems.  There was no executive capability, simply information and advice to human  operators.  Hopefully faster and more reliable and condensed  information, but nonetheless  just advisory.  

As we approach the point where autonomous units can carry out mundane, repetitive  tasks reliably we have to ask some very serious political and ethical questions.  If we ignore the transition phase for now, it is possible to envisage a marvellous future.  Imagine a world without drudgery where production if delegated to autonomous entities.  Sounds good, but it is very dangerous.  How do the ordinary people then earn a living? If labour is insignificantly cheap (as it would be with efficient capable AI units), then the  only value is in control of resource or in artistic and intellectual endeavours.  

Humanity has been here before on occasions; just  substitute slaves for the AI entities. In ancient Athens, citizens (not women, slaves or foreigners) fought in the army and were expected to participate in policy formulation.  Citizens were paid to attend the forum, so even the poorest were not excluded.   There are other  models of slave based societies of course, like the Romans.  They were so dependent that when it was proposed they have a uniform in the city for slaves, it was defeated by pointing out that slave would realise how numerous they were and revolt would surely follow.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

It is 2008 all over again

Three meetings are on my radar for this month.  Each reminds me in some way of 2008. 

A number of groups have been invited to workshop sessions on Shaping our Future.  There is a report on this somewhere on the States web site and yes it is our old friend 2035 again.  I took part in the Imagine Jersey event  in 2008.  It was a travesty of consultation, a one dimensional view of the future looking solely at financial  impacts of a growing elderly population and social security and pensions.  It was a railroad to the pre-selected acceptable outcomes.  One of the points I made repeatedly in the subsequent elections was that we needed to do this exercise properly, looking at  how the world would change by 2035 and well beyond just the money.

So here we are over 7 years on and we have only just got to realising we need plans for all the other aspects of life in the future.   I know some of the people attending  these sessions.  If it is as badly handled as 2008 there will be uproar.

You my be aware I sometimes contribute to Rural magazine on local organic production and my stockless smallholding .  This talk is right up my street. Robin Page is an entertaining speaker though his politics and mine are poles apart.  He has stood for the UK and European parliaments a few times as a Conservative and in 2010 as a UKIP candidate.   I have put a link below to his experiences with the police, around 2008 eventually winning a four figure sum compensation payout .

Lastly we have the AGM of the Jersey Climate Action Network.  This is the eighth one, so the origins are  in 2008.  You can read a bit of its nascence here