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Gary Smith: Bugged by technology?

Fears over advances may not be necessary

Here are at least some of the things I'm not supposed to be worried about:

• A nuclear North Korea

• Extreme weather

• Extreme ... people

• Diseases

• Large dogs

• Spiders and/or snakes

• The dark

And here's what I'm supposed to be afraid of:

• Artificial intelligence.

Yep, I'm supposed to be OK with creepy arachnids, but concerned that a computer program that can clue me into the location of an exterminator, allow me to order bug spray in bulk and help me find a coffee shop (OK, not related to killing spiders in any way, but, you know, priorities) is something I'm supposed to be terrified of.

And don't take my word for it. No less an authority on crazy ideas and outlandish claims that don't adhere to reality than Elon Musk has said, with what we're being told is a straight face (well, he said it on Twitter, so, it's kind of hard to tell), that artificial intelligence is more dangerous than North Korea.

Apparently this was a value judgment and not a ranking. He didn't follow up by saying AI, as it's often referred to, was less dangerous than Russia or Texas.

The danger, I'm assuming, since 140 characters doesn't really allow for a lot of context, is that AI will start taking over a lot of functions that are normally reserved for living, breathing human beings. But the worry is that what they make up for in speed and efficiency they lack in compassion and warmth.

So, in other words, we shouldn't trust Siri to tell us how to get to the hospital, but should instead rely on the very nice, very empathic man who expressed a great deal of concern about our well-being and sent us the wrong way because, while he has great personal warmth, he had no sense of direction.

We're a nation of people who would trust that latter over the former, and who also think it's a great idea to trust determinations of guilt or innocence to folks who couldn't figure out a way to get out of jury duty.

My challenge with this is that all the hand-wringing is a little bit premature, since AI hasn't exactly progressed to the point where it can do a whole lot more than beat people at Jeopardy or recommend restaurants to you.

And as in favor as I am of getting your worrying in early and beating the Christmas rush (unless what you're worried about is, in fact, the Christmas rush), I can't get in too much of a lather over a supposedly malevolent force whose major affront at this point was taking European Women Poets for $200, Alex.

Of course, I say that now. I might be whistling a different, computer-generated tune composed of notes and sounds gleaned by machines researching all hit recordings since Bell and combining them into a certain top seller if I wind up locked in my car because I'd like to get out but my cigarette lighter "can't let you do that, Dave." And my name isn't even Dave.

On the other hand, having my phone let me know whatever it is I'm trying to do is a bad idea might actually be a good thing. After all, artificial or not, having some intelligence in the area to suggest that any of the stupid plans I come up with might be, well, just that, is probably a good thing. After all, the Lovely Mrs. Smith can't be everywhere.

And after my daily terrifying commute, I have to wonder if driverless cars aren't such a bad idea. Or are at least a bit of a preference over cars with actual drivers, who are in reality reading their phones.

I mean, whatever will I do when there isn't a real live, breathing human being to screw up my drive-through order or stack the eggs on top of the bread under a gallon of milk?

Chances are we either won't know for hundreds of years or will find out next Thursday, depending on which "futurist" (yes, you can make a living predicting things that will happen so long from now you'll be long gone and therefore untouchable ) you'd like to believe.

Here's hoping that, while recent events call into question much of our intelligence, when AI does become fully integrated, we've been smart enough to accentuate the positives and are not considering "The Terminator" a documentary.

And now if we can just do something about those spiders ...

Commentary on 10/13/2017

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