Everyone knows what a kaleidoscope is. When I saw the word used in a sentence to describe the world we live in today, I knew I just had to use it to describe the world of robotics. While there is this noxious stew of violent extremism, cross border criminal activity, and terrorism, it can be managed. What also needs to be managed is the ethics of technology.
Robert Oppenheimer, who famously quoted the Bhagavad Gita after the detonation of the first atomic bomb: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”. We’re making laws based on fears, from bans on stem cell research and cloning to proposals to label genetically modified foods at grocery stores to just about everything to do with technology.
In this country, scientists may turn to the First Amendment, which offers protection for creative expression. But scientists also need to ask themselves how far they want to go. Life science is on the verge of creating synthetic life. Science may soon be reciting, ‘Now I am become Life, creator of worlds,’ with the same sense of awe and accomplishment as Oppenheimer.”
While our current President is creating his legacy based on a nuclear deal with Iran, it was only four years ago that scientists in the Netherlands and the U.S. very carefully created a potentially devastating disease. It launched an international outcry and became the most public display yet of a question that scientists will frequently face in the future: Now that we know how to do this, should we? Like the Manhattan Project, this little experiment is known mostly within the science community and not the general public.
I personally don’t have a position on the nuclear deal with Iran because for me it really doesn’t matter. That is technology that I have already studied and after 60 years, the world knows a lot about it and has counter measures. I do believe that future technology needs to be managed through complete transparency of its development cycle. The purpose of the nuclear deal is so the whole world can be watchdogs. No more secret Manhattan Projects.
Asimo, Japan’s famous humanoid robot was developed in complete secrecy, but the company has now joined the rest or the world in shared development of ideas. DARPA was also a secret development environment for the US military but has also come out of the closet.
Unfortunately, as the robotic technology advances, greed is starting to creep in from companies like Google (AI), Facebook (smarter AI), Apple (it’s a secret) and Uber (driverless cars). They are recruiting the best minds from the open research and development sources and locking them up in their labs. Like most scientific pursuits, robotics thrives on collaboration across teams and projects.
Recently there was a convention called “Wait. What?” a future technology forum in St Louis. While there was a display of several technology agendas, it was the synthetic robots known as “Synths”, which peaked my interest. Some people think this is new life, but it is only a machine. What brings it to act like life is its artificial intelligence (AI). And how advanced that AI is will determine how autonomous the synth will be.
What will be the ethics of this new robotic culture? It’s something for you to think about until my next article.