Welcome to the machine

2001: A Space Odyssey

Every so often, when I am playing with my computer, a why goes through my being. The why arises from the fundamental difference between me and my friend: it has an ability to generate random numbers.

I remember when I was a cashier at a grocery store. There I was able to predict more than 90 % of the events. He is going to drink the takeaway coffee while still at store, and pay for it afterwards. She is going to greet me saying “hejssan”, even though she otherwise speaks Finnish and not Swedish. But the black swan always appears when I least expect—when it’s five minutes to closing and I have already counted the money and closed the desk, or when I believe I have earned a break—always surprising. Our every thought and action is inherited from one primal seed and only altered by our experiences. When we are exposed to this weird radiation, we feel confused, as we cannot generate truly random numbers.

Similarly, when I turn on an old analog television, I see and hear noise. It is caused by events at the beginning of our universe that the receiver is now capturing as microwaves. As it is something we cannot produce, it looks and sounds interesting, or even calming, being something that human needs.

Also societies need it to work flawlessly. There is an example from as far as ancient times: the Athenian democracy, where a lottery was used to select officeholders. From this we have evolved to employing Turing machine implementations that we can today assign our deepest secrets to, up to the governmental level, and they will be safe, unless someone who already has the information, leaks it.

It reforms our economies. Due to widespread automation and other factors, increase in unemployment does not anymore correspond to the decrease of gross national product, as stated in 1962 by the Okun’s law, which is still used as the basis for economic models. Realizing this will make people change their opinions about having no job. The younger generation has already adapted to it. The generation of sixties might think it is insurgency, but instead, it is simply a new way of thinking.

In the long term, this permanent change leads to a situation where only a fraction of population is needed to work, to maintain the systems, and artificial intelligence will take a greater responsibility. Our devices are already forming networks, chips are implanted to human and a DNA computer is entertaining us playing tic-tack-toe, coming close to intuition. The discussion of AI surpassing human has transformed from a science fiction to an educated debate. Inevitably we will give the control to algorithms only, but there is no reason to worry about it: so far, machine has freed us from physically hard or self-repeating work. It has given us a possibility to use our time for something more constructive, to improve our own capabilities, physical or mental.

The problem resides on one basic characteristic of human. We are prone to resist change, especially when it comes to playing God. A classic example from our revolutionizing world is the genetic engineering. A while ago, I was listening how a dear friend of mine was anxious about genetically modified products entering the market. I told him how we have managed to get rid of pesticides, make rice produce beta-carotene to prevent anemia, enable an industrial production of insulin and eliminate familial diseases, all as an achievement of genetic engineering. With the help of these good examples, humanity is slowly starting to accept the change. On AI we do not yet have similar experiences, and therefore, to many, it sounds scary.

Chaos, God or whatever created us did not make us perfect. Instead, it gave us the power to create. Thanks to this, we now have WordPress, encyclopedias and all kind of archives full of papers and more than we can read appearing every day. While you are reading this, some bot is scanning through that everything, learning all the time. Data mining produces lots of data, but without human it has no meaning. As intuitive beings our task is to create ideas based on this data and our experience, giving humankind a value. And that’s what this blog is about, so welcome to the machine.