What are you worried about?

June 12, 2019 1 Comment

Does anyone remember the story about the Facebook chat-bots that developed their own mysterious version of English and then were shut down? It turns out that it was a pretty simple artificial intelligence experiment that did not have constraints on proper English. The chat-bots were not on the verge of becoming “Skynet” – as this article points out. Even so, as artificial intelligence becomes embedded in every piece of technology we use, this episode at Facebook should make you concerned. It makes me concerned.

Most artificial intelligence (AI) experiments are much more elaborate than the Facebook chat-bot negotiators. Unbeknownst to most people, AI systems and networks of systems are no longer simple step-by-step programs. The outcome of most AI programming cannot be foreseen ahead of time. The networks are also too complicated to “go back” and figure out how an AI system arrived at its action or decision. This is a problem.

Even if AI does not become conscious (like in science fiction media), it can still be dangerous. AI working in financial markets, routing data on the Internet, monitoring power networks, and running a lot of future military equipment will “behave” in mysterious ways at times. It does not have to be sentient to cause severe problems or widespread destruction.

The Reaper, killer drone

Even more worrisome is that most advanced AI research is currently unregulated and unmonitored. A lot of it is being developed in secret corporate or government labs. An unethical company like Facebook is the last entity I would want in control of powerful AI. (Unfortunately, they are also making robots).

If you are not worried about advanced AI, you should be. Here are a few other articles and videos I have come by recently:

The military wants to develop battlefield robots that make their own decisions.

Experts say we desperately need to study and understand “machine behavior”

AI knows how to “cheat” in order to solve problems.

Researchers are developing ways for robots to reproduce and evolve on their own 

Some people research “evil” AI, should that research be published?

Security is often the last thing on robot developers’ minds, most can be hacked rather easily

AI-driven brain scanners are used by Chinese authorities to monitor workers – yikes!

TED talk 1 about dangerous AI

TED talk 2 about dangerous AI

TED talk 3 about dangerous AI

TED talk 4 about dangerous AI

…and there are many more

Killer battlefield robot

So why am I discussing the dangers of AI? Because I am often asked why I don’t talk about anthropogenic global warming (aka AGW or “Climate change”) more often. There are some people who think it should be at the top of every weathercast because it is the most dire threat facing humans or the planet. I hope I don’t disappoint too many people but “climate change” is fairly low on the list of “serious issues” I am concerned about…and I am not even bringing into the conversation everyday things like accidents,  crime, health, or finances.

In comparison to the grave and very short-term threat of technology and AI taking over our lives, enslaving us, or wiping us out, “climate change” is not that frightening.

If climate forecasts are correct and we start having more 90 degree days in Wausau by 2050, perhaps 15 to 20 per year, instead of the current 5 or so, that would be an inconvenience, but it is nothing compared to the possibility of “slaughterbots” (watch the video). You might think that slaughterbots are science fiction, but we already have multinational tech companies who make robots/drones and who know everything about you and where you live. Even if you don’t use social media and are not online all that much…your friends are. Your family is. They share pictures of you. They talk about you. Companies like Google could create a “shadow” profile of you and even share it without your permission.

If climate forecasts are correct and the temperature warms up over the next couple of decades, we might lose a lot of trout habitat in Wisconsin. Trout need colder water to live and thrive. I like to fish trout. I would be sad to see this come to pass, but it is minor compared to a world-wide man-made pandemic. You might not have seen this yet, but the U.S. government is funding research on how to create more deadly viruses. In addition, gene drive technology is being used selectively wipe-out specific insects. What could possibly go wrong?

If climate forecasts are correct and the global temperature warms up a couple of degrees in the next 50 years, then sea levels could rise by a foot or so. Many people in coastal cities will have to move. Adjusting to the new water levels will be costly as infrastructure will have to be protected or dismantled. This would pale in comparison to what a large asteroid strike could do to the earth. The magnetic field of the earth is weakening as well – possibly leading to higher cancer rates in the future.

Speaking of cancer. You and I know people who have cancer. Cancer rates are increasing. Cancer treatments are not all that great – getting better, but not great. Many people I know are going to either contract or die of cancer in the next 5 years. A lot sooner than the world is going to end via AGW. Helping people find a cure for cancer is higher on my priority list than “climate change”.

I hope you are not disappointed. Just remember that this list is relative. AGW and all of the other items mentioned above are “serious” problems, and I am glad that there are some people who are pushing the “climate change” issue, however, when ranking the worst of the worst, “climate change” does not rise to the top of my list. Like always, I will continue to advocate for cleaner energy and lowering our environmental impact (sadly, like talking to a brick wall in our consumer-driven culture), but in my spare time I am keeping a more watchful eye on other developments.

Meteorologist Justin Loew


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  1. Tim Kelly says:

    Good blog! There are some drawbacks with the new generation artificial intelligence system, which is a serious issue. But the rapid climate change which the earth is facing is also a serious threat that the world is facing and cannot be neglected.

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