Cyborgs to keep us as pets (and other tech news)
Posted on 17th July 2019
It’s an interesting exercise to scan the online press and see what they’re writing about in their technology pages these days. While the technical press – the likes of Computer Weekly et al – are writing ‘expert to expert,’ the mainstream media have to satisfy two audiences, namely; the businessman/woman who wants to find news and information about technological change and how it’s affecting business; and secondly the modern-day equivalent of the “man on the Clapham omnibus” (who would almost certainly be rendered in more gender-fluid terms nowadays).
Anyway, all this is by way of a preamble to my recent trip around the news pages of the Times, Telegraph FT and Guardian’s tech pages (other newspapers are available). We did this earlier this year and it was really interesting to see that the growing importance of IT being reflected in the huge amount of coverage, and specialist reporters, on offer. For example…
The Times ran a review of Digital Minimalism: On Living Better with Less Technology by Cal Newport,which is a book that suggests we would all be a lot better off if we spent less time with our phones. The review is actually pretty critical, noting that, “his practical suggestions sound a bit obvious (but) if you want to spend less time with your phone, this book isn’t a bad place to start.” Then, in an amusing dig at the language Newport uses, the reviewer tells us, “It’s time to start hacking your socio-technological interactions to engineer more positive, real-world, 3D multimedia interactions going forward.” Fair enough: one of the key strengths of the really successful technology entrepreneur is an ability to communicate in a language his/her audience understands.
Also in the Thunderer (The Times for younger readers), there are several articles arguing for and against the use of technology for policing; and in particular the use of facial recognition. Met Chief Cressida Dick makes what many people might think of as a fair point when she notes that the police make more use of technology when working on serious cases and then asks, “So what magic wand would it take for us to be able to apply what we can do in murder to so many other cases?” But a month later, the Policy and Campaigns Officer at Liberty argues in The Times that an independent review of the Met’s use of facial recognition “offers a damning indictment of how the police have gambled with people’s rights (and) The government must act to ban this mass surveillance tool.” Who’s right? Probably Liberty, but if it was your child who was going to be saved by use of facial recognition then you’d want it used now – wouldn’t you?
Turning to the Guardian, where, it must be said, there the tech pages are not especially business-orientated, I did come across a rather entertaining piece that explains how Google Maps does not show a tunnel that is a key link in Sydney’s newly opened WestConnex M4 East motorway. Drivers trying to plot their journey between Sydney and Haberfield find “routes plotted … consistently failed to recognise the new tunnel, even when users specifically chose places close to the entry and exist points.”
However, that’s not as amusing (or depressing, depending on your point of view) as the article in the Telegraph in which Gaia theorist James Lovelock posits the theory that “Cyborgs could take over Earth and keep humans as pets.” According to Telegraph, Lovelock, who is aged 99, believes that all-living creatures on Earth make up a single self-regulating organism “claims the age may have already begun with the emergence of Deep Mind’s AI programme Alpha Zero, which mastered the game of chess within four hours in 2017 and now appears to have developed some form of human-like intuition.”
Furthermore, he claims that “machines will soon be building themselves, and operating a million times quicker than the human brain can manage.” Lovelock believes earth has entered a new age, which he calls Novacene, in which AI will triumph and “cyborg scientists may well exhibit collections of live humans. After all, people who live near London go to Kew Gardens to watch the plants.” I can just see the scene… with a grumpy old cyborg reading his online “Cyborg Times” and exclaiming, “isn’t it terrible the way bad news sells papers!”
Michael Phair, Be-IT
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