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Future Technology: Helpful or Harmful?

  1. Jan 13, 2018 #1

    anorlunda

    Staff: Mentor

    Let me recommend http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/ The Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, moderator. I've been following it since 1995. It is not really a forum like PF, but rather a newsletter. It is about 50% aggregation of news headlines you may already have seen, and 50% stories of delightful and eye opening mishaps.

    Here's a sample from a recent issue:
    slask.png

    I can't help to notice that since 1995, the risks haven't changed. The details do change of course, but not the underlying types of errors. I could pull a 1995 issue, change some of the names and details and republish it in 2018, fooling nearly everybody.

    In fact, it is difficult and rare to commit a truly original kind of mistake. Neumann's award winning 1995 book, Computer Related Risks makes that clear. That suggests to me that we could apply technology to reduce repetition of the same mistakes over and over. On the other hand, it seems that technology could be blamed as the cause of many of our problems.

    What do you think? "Are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes again and again for eternity, or can technology help us to reduce (not eliminate) their occurrence?"

    Of course, technology has the potential to go either way or both ways. I am asking for your opinion on the net outcome.

    The same question could be rephrased as: "Do you think future changes in technology will produce net gains or net injury to human welfare?"

    Please note that I am deliberately using the word technology to avoid the more narrow term AI.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 13, 2018 #2

    jedishrfu

    Staff: Mentor

    Yes we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes and with advanced tech we are doomed to teach the computers how to make the same mistakes only bigger, cheaper and faster.
     
  4. Jan 14, 2018 #3
    As you said, It's all about the human nature. I am certainly sure that we will never be able to change this and Its hard for us to learn lessons from the past (There are still wars, poverty, corruption and the communinaction is very fragile between people, more people depressed etc). I dont think that, things have changed from the past 1000 years or maybe more.

    I hope it doesnt go a way that happens in the "black mirror". I mean technology can be great but most important thing is how we use it. And from current world situations I am even not sure that we will able to see that kind of tech era.
     
  5. Jan 14, 2018 #4

    lekh2003

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    This is a scary predicament, but nevertheless, if we can't learn from mistakes a black mirror scenario isn't too far away.
     
  6. Jan 14, 2018 #5
    Yeah, I agree...black mirror is in the edge but somewhat we are all living in the edges.
     
  7. Jan 14, 2018 #6

    lekh2003

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    This thread just took a dark turn.
     
  8. Jan 14, 2018 #7

    QuantumQuest

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    Gold Member

    History repeats itself in a merciless way so I don't think that there is much room for improvement - if at all, at least in the foreseeable future.

    This - as already mentioned, has an intimate relation to the human nature and is historically confirmed . Although the words "technology" and "mistakes" are very general in the context of the question i.e. encompassing many sorts and levels of things, I think that we can succinctly enough focus on a hypothetical breakthrough product, asking two questions namely "Why buy this product?" and "How this product can be utilized?", in order to have at least some rough idea for the role that human nature plays in the answer of the original question.

    In order for a (potential) product to hit the market - and much more to take it by storm, potential customers must be assured that this product will fulfill some need(s) and for the best price or they must be convinced that this is so. In other words why buy it? The question is if there is a real need. Because the answer must be given in the context of our present needs which have been formed by technology itself in a high degree, it is really difficult to give to the word "real" a proper unbiased definition i.e. a definition in a human-centric fashion .This is not to say that technology produces unneeded / useless things but that it has ultimately become a crucial factor of the way of living for good and for bad, so it heavily influences the way we all live. So, given the present needs, a potential good product may fulfill some of them but the most important and in many cases overlooked thing is what sort of problem(s) will bear mostly with regard to human health - both body and mental, and both soon and in the long run. The second question is how a potential customer / end user can utilize it i.e. in how many different ways including malicious ones. The creator of the product may have the best intents but it is really impossible to predict and foretell what anyone can do with and / or leverage feature(s) of the product in every conceivable way and what are all the potential influences / interactions with other related or seemingly unrelated things. Given the number of ideas that have been implemented as some form of product and the complexity of today's technology it is evidently impossible to tell. If we add the number of cases in which we buy something just because it is fashionable or just for the heck of it I think that the scale tilts to the negative side.

    Now, changing scale of things, what about hardware or software products that are of crucial importance for whole nations where (usually) big companies are on both sides i.e. sellers and buyers? And even though all the above refer to technology as we know and experience it today, is there anything that can give more positive predictions for the future and importantly, not because of the technology itself but of the way we as humans utilize it? It is very difficult - maybe futile, to think that human nature can change in a snap so that technology will serve purely good purposes. On the positive side, I hope that at some distant point in the future humanity will finally realize the lessons to learn and achieve it.
     
  9. Jan 14, 2018 #8

    anorlunda

    Staff: Mentor

    I'm more optimistic. I think we have been and will continue aiding/coaching/supervising humans using technology. I also think the pace of progress is accelerating and will continue to accelerate. All that is without reference to robots, body implants, AI, only contemporary or near future technology.

    Here are a few examples:
    • I'm sure you've seen videos of the "PULL UP. PULL UP." warning in airplane cockpits. How much more technology do we need to produce a verbal warning. "PILOT AND COPILOT ARE NOT COMMUNICATING ADEQUATELY" ? or "LEFT SEAT PILOT APPEARS FROZEN" or "DO NOT FIXATE ON ONE INSTRUMENT"
    • I think we'll move in the direction of automated generation of software code immune to boredom and tedium that avoids entire classes of mistakes? (And makes new kinds of mistakes? Maybe; but go back to the OP; new kinds of mistakes are difficult.)
    • Modern cars do auto braking, auto hazard detection, auto steering, and supposedly will replace drivers real soon now.
    • My navigation apps have made me a master navigator.
    • Youtube makes me much more capable at DIY and repair than I ever was.
    • A oft repeated error in the Risks archives is that a legacy system outlives the assumptions it was designed for. Often is was an uninformed middle management decision, or lack of a decision in the face of ignorance that extended the lifetime. Remembering and regurgitating those assumptions at the proper time and place is just a matter of bookkeeping and tracking. We already to that when someone wants to extend the life of a nuclear power plant. It's just a matter of working down the ladder to smaller more mundane things. "Alexa, remind anyone who buys this thing that it needs to be inspected every 10 years."
    • If we add AI and possibly genetics on top of all that, progress accelerates faster.
    I cite those examples as ways that we are incrementally chipping away at our dependence on human nature.

    Consider humans augmented by technology (without necessarily any bio/mechanical implants or robotics). Me plus my Alexa for example. If I stretch it, the SF word cyborg could apply. Maybe the classical human can't overcome human nature, but I think the augmented human could do better.

    If humans augmented by technology can't improve to overcome human nature, then we leave open an evolutionary niche for evolution (bio or non bio) to supersede homo sapiens, and the "we" of the improved future may not include humans.
     
  10. Jan 15, 2018 #9

    Svein

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    Science Advisor

    Douglas Adams:
    “A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”
     
  11. Jan 15, 2018 #10

    Svein

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    Sorry, wrong quote. I really meant to quote Albert Einstein since this is a Physics Forum:

    Every day, man is making bigger and better fool-proof things. Every day, nature is making bigger and better fools. So far, I think nature is winning.
     
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