Thursday, January 19, 2012
Robot Arms Race
Continuing to catch up on Robot Futurism - I re-read Bill Joys article in Wired of over 10 years ago, Why the Future Doesn't Need Us - along with numerous rebuttals, references, and relevant discussions.
The central premise of Joys article is that we are creating dangerous stuff, and maybe we want to think about regulating ourselves. As GNR (Genetics, Nanotechnology, Robotics) tech advances, it gets easier and easier to destroy all human life. We need to considering slowing development of GNR tech, until we can properly defend against it's destructive potential.
Most of the rebuttals to his paper suggest that:
A) It's not that easy to create world-destroying stuff with GNR.
B) If the good guys don't figure out GNR tech, the bad guys will, so we need to go full steam ahead with fundamental research.
C) GNR applications are a moral imperative for quality of life reasons and the advantages outweigh the risks.
D) I don't like Bill Joy because he quoted the unabomber.
E) Anyway, you're right, we need to figure out how to regulate ourselves.
Most GNR sits precisely in the camp of biotech as a threat. Development cost will continue to shrink for weapons that could kill humans and spread quickly with total disrespect for borders.
My conclusion is that labs that study these technologies need to be reasonably careful. The threat isn't huge now, but it will be someday. As with Brains article on Robot Economics (see my last post) the threat is vastly more serious if we are looking a dislocation in the face, rather than a very gradual ramping up of world-changing technologies. No one seems to know which we are looking at. A "Center for Nanotech Control" should probably be funded at a level commensurate with the threat. Depressingly, that's not happening (I hope I'm wrong, I hate being depressed, so please feel free to correct me).
In fact, relatively little has been written on the topic of nanotech defense in the last 5 years. There was a flurry of activity around Joys article, and that was that. It may not have been helpful that most of the predictions that were made publicly by prominent futurists around that time were significantly off. People just seem to have gotten disinterested.
I guess we're just going to have to be happy with the amazing benefits of GNR and not think too hard about the dangers for a while. We'll live forever until we're dead. Wait...