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The creepy rise of artificial intelligence
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By Andrea Peyser
August 29, 2014

The creepy rise of artificial intelligence

The rise of the machines gives me the creeps.

Looking for a decent movie to watch, my husband and I recently consulted Siri. That’s a digital personal assistant — a perky, disembodied female voice that (or is it who?) never hogs the bathroom or calls in sick.

Within minutes, we were cursing out the inhuman creation that inhabits my hub’s iPhone.

Siri didn’t seem to know (if this thing can know anything) how to find a theater in New York City that shows films whose actors speak English while fully clothed. It got ugly.

“Now, now,’’ Siri intoned, suddenly sounding as menacing as the sensitive computer HAL in the 1968 science-fiction flick “2001: A Space Odyssey.’’

“Why do you hate me?’’ said the voice of Siri. “I don’t even exist.’’

We stayed in that night and watched Netflix on TV. We also never messed with Siri again.

That day, I’d already booked airplane tickets online, deposited a check into my bank account with my smartphone, paid the electric bill on my home computer and took out cash from an automatic teller machine, thus eliminating the need to interact with clerks or tellers while helping make obsolete paper checks and old-fashioned stamps purchased from the struggling US Postal Service.

Soon, I developed a throbbing headache, which I treated with a bottle of Advil that I bought using the self-checkout machine at my local CVS drugstore. Then I placed an order on the computer for a week’s worth of groceries to be delivered by FreshDirect.com. Until my husband returned from a round of golf and plopped down in front of his laptop computer, I had spent an entire Saturday without sharing airspace or having a conversation with a single, breathing soul. I began longing for the company of the delivery man. Scratch that if Amazon.com succeeds in its plan to dump packages on our doorsteps with the aid of pilotless drones.

Labor Day is this coming Monday. When this celebration of American workers became a national holiday back in 1894, I doubt that anyone could have foreseen that, early in the next millennium, human beings would become inefficient nuisances. We might not even be necessary.

Want a date? Bars can be full of germs and chatty bartenders. The modern single goes online to find a soul mate or a stalker onMatch.comOKCupid.com and JDate.com. Then, there’s the case of San Diego Chargers linebacker Manti Te’o. When Te’o played football for the University of Notre Dame, he engaged in a nearly four-year relationship with a woman he met on Facebook.com who died. As it turned out, the doofus never swapped spit with his lady love, because, like Siri, she never even existed,Deadspin.com revealed. Te’o said he was “catfished’’ — an acquaintance invented the woman as a hoax. And so he experienced passion and heartbreak without the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

The IBM computer Deep Blue beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov at the game back in 1997. The company’s Watson defeated a string of TV “Jeopardy’’’ champions, including record 74-time winner Ken Jennings, before losing to Rep. Rush Holt Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, in 2011. But Watson is being reprogrammed as a doctor, absorbing most of the world’s medical knowledge and being trained to make lifesaving decisions.

“And Dr. Watson is always available and never annoyed, sick, nervous, hungover, upset, in the middle of divorce, sleep-deprived, and so on,’’ Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the Center for Digital Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote on his blog.

The German engineering firm Festo has developed a robotic string quintet that “listens’’ to music and generates new compositions. Robots at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center are replacing standard pharmacists by dispensing medicine. Lawyers and paralegals could be on the chopping block, after Blackstone Discovery of Palo Alto, Calif., developed software that reviews legal documents faster and cheaper than humans. Chauffeurs and drivers-ed could become a thing of the past because Google has developed a self-driving car. The Japanese cellphone company Softbank announced that it will sell emotion-reading robots to be used as baby sitters. NASA, in partnership with General Motors, is making robots that could do the work of astronauts. (One small step for machine?)

Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering, this year told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that in 2029 — 15 years from now — computers will be smarter than humans, understand what we say, learn from experience, make jokes, tell stories and even flirt.

But if machines replace all living workers, if we give over this planet to artificially intelligent gadgets, then whom will the cyber-beings serve?

I fear that the gizmos will figure that out.

©2007-2021 Andrea Peyser and andreapeyser.com; No Reuse without permission.
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