I experience robots and machines every day.
And sometimes I feel there is a war going on that I didn’t sign up for.
My computer doesn’t behave itself and I need to reboot it. Annoying but it mostly works.
My smartphone throws a tantrum and I power it off and turn it back on. The solution to most tech problems.
My car dashboard displays a warning light and tells me I have a fault. The tire is flat. But on looking with my imperfect human eyes at its flatness, that is just not true.
Again, it involves a reset!
But most of the time I don’t even notice robots as they don’t look like the ones we see in science fiction movies. Ironman, WALL-E, Robocop and Terminator to name a few. Humanoid machines that replicate the homo sapien form.
The real robots
The real robots sit quietly in the background.
Applying the rules and algorithms that have been programmed by humans to perform a specific task. They sometimes seem like a ghost in a machine. Invisible and just doing their thing.
Some of the robots perform very simple tasks. Multiplying two numbers, or more complex, like guiding you in your car to your destination, or even helping you make a stock trade. These all work because intersecting technologies come together to make it possible.
Google Maps wouldn’t work unless multiple tech is combined to mix into the pot and create a hybrid of magic. It requires satellites, software, mobile devices with screen tech, the internet, and Wi-Fi to all come together to deliver the working solution.
Often the result feels like Alchemy.
As described by the science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Robots in plain sight
Today these intelligent machines are everywhere.
Smart fridges. I am not sure how this works but if they can order more food without leaving the house or having to think when I have run out of milk, then I am all for that.
Robotic vacuum cleaners that park themselves and self-charge when their job is done. Love that. I hate vacuuming.
Self diagnosing fault finders in cars. Lifting up the hood of the car to find a problem is like peering into the abyss. I don’t want to poke that bear.
Planes that land and fly themselves (mostly). Pilots that had a fight with their partners before taking control of the lives of 400 passengers are maybe not the best people to have in your corner if you want to survive the adventure of flying.
Collision detection. Better than humans who sometimes get emotional or distracted by an SMS when lane changing.
Hands-free and voice-controlled home hardware like Amazon Alexa that can control smart home devices and lock your house behind you. But I still like having a physical key in case the robot locks me out. Or the power goes off.
Most of these time-saving and convenience enabling devices are designed to make life simpler. But some robots are still a work in progress.
But robots may need some rules.
Isaac Asimov in the book “I, Robot” (written in 1942) made up three simple rules to guide their programmed behavior.
- A robot may not injure a human being.
- A robot must obey orders given to it by a human. (Except where such orders conflict with the first law).
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as it does not conflict with laws one and two.
This was a good start but it has become murkier since then. And I am afraid that we may be losing control.
And another paradox is that technology can be used for good or evil.
In 1860, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite. It was first used to dig mines deeper and more quickly and mining at scale helped drive the rapid growth of the industrial revolution. Then it was applied to industrial killing as it was brought onto the battlefield.
Nuclear technology is used for energy and big bombs.
Even social media is not immune from the paradox of the “evil vs good” paradox. It’s great for sharing your creation and communication with the world. But it also comes at a cost. Bad actors are using it to bully individuals at a distance, influencing democracies and spreading disinformation and fake news.
As entrepreneurs we are also not immune from the machines.
Once we start using the intelligence we have created we sometimes find that the machine has taken over with no humans in sight. The humans abdicate and let the machines run the show.
And that is a problem.
Recently I have been banging my head up against misbehaving algorithms on Google and Facebook. Machines running amok and making most of the decisions.
The digital ads we are running to promote the podcast on our YouTube Channel or advertise a partner’s business and tools have sometimes been rejected by the machines. The rulings have been unusual, to say the least, and one of my favorite reasons is “sensitive issues”. It almost sounds like I need counseling! A nice catch-all cry for a machine that is getting it wrong and often. The solution is to “Appeal.” Then you are still fighting the algorithm.
And I can’t speak to a human.
There are other issues for many other people. Get your Facebook page or “Ads” banned or closed down on Facebook and try to speak to a human for some reasonable judgment. I know of quite a few friends and colleagues that have butted up against that immovable object.
These platforms are often wasting my time, my teams’ brains and my emotional energy. I feel like I’m Google and Facebook’s slave as I spend time and money fighting their machines.
More machines to fight the machines.
Maybe we need to take on the platforms at their own game. Create multiple accounts and use other tech that bypasses the gatekeepers. But that feels like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Google and Facebook have 10,000 software engineers that can beat you into submission.
Have other options?
Sign up and have in your arsenal alternative platforms or have more tools in your toolbox. The challenge here is that Facebook and Google are really the only show in town. So it’s good luck with that.
At the moment we are using tech that is new and largely untested and still evolving. And the machines are getting in the way. Maybe it is just patience that we need. But we are being tested.
We need to get humanity back into the game. Over time these issues will be resolved but evolution has its drawbacks and at the moment we are seeing at times an abdication by humans to an imperfect machine.
The response is often a veiled answer of, “Sorry I can’t help you as the robot is running the show.”
If we don’t get more human intervention involved then technology will not be our servant and we will just be its slave. That’s not the scenario I signed up for.
And…sometimes I just want to speak to an imperfect beautiful human.