Are You Driving A Robot, Already?

Earlier today I was speaking with a mother outside my child’s school about her elderly parents.  This woman began to tell me that her father is in a substandard home, because it was the closest within walking distance to her mother (who can’t drive).  I immediately thought about Sergey Brin’s claim that a driverless car could be the biggest quality of life improvement for our seniors.  Already, there are three cars with driver licenses in Nevada, California and Florida (which also have the largest elderly populations).

This past week, scientists in England debated “the role and consequences of artificial intelligence and self-driving cars.”  The discussion included a wide gambit of new robotic developments from “personalized searches of Google to the seductive experience of driverless cars, from educational robots that hone your French to prosthetics that are stronger and faster than our own limbs”.  The room was filled with scientists, legal experts and philosophers to wrestle over implications of modernity.  In my opinion, it was very medieval.  However, Alan Winfield, professor of electronic engineering at UWE Bristol, differs, “we’re interested in considering the ethical and societal impact of such systems…If we get it wrong, there are consequences right now.”

Two weeks ago, I attended the Drones and Aerial Robotics Conference (DARC) at  New York University. I was blown away, during the first half, by the energy for the commercialization of technology that has been held for too long by the military.  The afternoon session became a debate on wether drones can make kill decision.  This may sound silly, but the UN is currently drafting an update to the Geneva Convention covering drones.  Similar to the Bristol meeting last, DARC had a philosophy professor who had his own Hollywood paranoia of robots. Prof. John Kagg of the University of Massachusetts, attempted to illustrate his point by exclaiming, “You feel that little quiver in your stomach?” It’s called a sign of being human. Drones don’t feel that.”

I do not know if other inventions like the typewriter and the bicycle were so heavy debated, as they can respectfully create slander or deform someone. Oh yes, the skeptics claim that there is a human behind the keys and pedals, and we all know that humans are incapable of bad decisions.

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