The march of progress
Joseph A. Komonchak July 26, 2009 - 1:47pm
Todays NY Times has an article on recent and anticipated advances in computer technology, which has some scientists nervous. A couple of interesting paragraphs:
The idea of an "intelligence explosion" in which smart machines would design even more intelligent machines was proposed by the mathematician I. J. Good in 1965. Later, in lectures and science fiction novels, the computer scientist Vernor Vinge popularized the notion of a moment when humans will create smarter-than-human machines, causing such rapid change that the "human era will be ended." He called this shift the Singularity.This vision, embraced in movies and literature, is seen as plausible and unnerving by some scientists like William Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Other technologists, notably Raymond Kurzweil, have extolled the coming of ultrasmart machines, saying they will offer huge advances in life extension and wealth creation."Something new has taken place in the past five to eight years," Dr. Horvitz said. "Technologists are replacing religion, and their ideas are resonating in some ways with the same idea of the Rapture." ...
The meeting on artificial intelligence [held last February] could be pivotal to the future of the field. Paul Berg... said it was important for scientific communities to engage the public before alarm and opposition becomes unshakable."If you wait too long and the sides become entrenched like with G.M.O.," he said, referring to genetically modified foods, "then it is very difficult. Its too complex, and people talk right past each other." ...
Despite his concerns, Dr. Horvitz said he was hopeful that artificial intelligence research would benefit humans, and perhaps even compensate for human failings. He recently demonstrated a voice-based system that he designed to ask patients about their symptoms and to respond with empathy. When a mother said her child was having diarrhea, the face on the screen said, "Oh no, sorry to hear that."A physician told him afterward that it was wonderful that the system responded to human emotion. "Thats a great idea," Dr. Horvitz said he was told. "I have no time for that."
About the Author
Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.