Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Note to Drivers of Automobiles in My Neighborhood

No, the traffic lights aren't there simply to remind pedestrians that we are your inferiors while you barrel around obliviously and at pointlessly high speeds to your enormously important desired destinations.

1 comment:

jimf said...

> Note to Drivers of Automobiles in My Neighborhood

Just you wait for the Singularity. Or for self-driving cars.
Whichever comes first.

The Singularity has been described as “rapture for nerds”. We know that
Glenn Reynolds ascribes to the Singularity himself: he has written and
blogged extensively about Ray Kurzweil’s book _The Singularity Is Near_,
and he says here

> One of the big criticisms of futurists who write about the Singularity
> is that the kind of strong artificial intelligence that Singularity-enthusiasts
> predict we'll accomplish is hard to achieve, and hasn't been achieved yet,
> despite the extravagant promises of researchers decades ago who thought
> that they could achieve human-like intelligence on machines less powerful
> than a Gameboy. . . .
> But we were a long way, in terms of capabilities, from self-navigating cars
> not long ago, too. And being a long way from something in terms of capabilities
> isn't necessarily the same as being a long way from something in terms of time,
> when your capabilities are improving at an ever-increasing rate. The faster
> those signposts flash by, the less time it takes to reach your goal, however
> far away it is.

As far as I can see, he’s signed on to a cultish self-validating argument: any
practical obstacles we may see to immortality (which I think is the money idea
in all this) will be covercome when the Singularity takes place. The Singularity
by definition will be the “tipping point” event where artificial intelligence figures
everything out. The evidence is robot cars! Who’d a thunk it?

This guy is crackers. And it ain't new. On December 23, 2000, well before Instapundit,
we find Glenn praising ”A terrific work of transhumanist science fiction”
[Greg Egan's _Diaspora_]. (As we saw yesterday, science fiction plays a scriptural
role for both libertarians and transhumanists.)

"[I]f some of the intelligence of the horse can be
put back into the automobile, thousands of lives
could be saved, as cars become nervous of their
drunk owners, and refuse to get into positions where
they would crash at high speed. We may look back
in amazement at the carnage tolerated in this age,
when every western country had road deaths
equivalent to a long, slow-burning war. In the future,
drunks will be able to use cars, which will take
them home like loyal horses. And not just drunks,
but children, the old and infirm, the blind, all will
be empowered.

Eventually, if cars were all (wireless) networked,
and humans stopped driving altogether, we might
scrap the vast amount of clutter all over our road
system - signposts, markings, traffic lights, roundabouts,
central reservations - and return our roads to a soft,
sparse, eighteenth-century look. All the information -
negotiation with other cars, traffic and route updates -
would come over the network invisibly. And our towns
and countryside would look so much sparser and
more peaceful."

_Society of the Mind_ by Eric L. Harry (1996)

"'Computer center, please,' Gray
said as he settled into the seat beside Laura in the
front of the driverless car.

'You can just, like, talk to it?' Laura asked,
fumbling with her seat belt.

'Just tell it where you want to go,' he answered as
if it were the most mundane feature of his island
world. The moment Laura's buckle clacked together,
the car began its acceleration. 'Voice recognition
and synthesis are consumer functions, and they
require a surprisingly large amount of processing
capacity. But the computer is able to parse sound
waves accurately enough to recognize rudimentary
commands if spoken clearly and in English.' The
car picked up speed as it headed out of the courtyard
and turned left at the gate.

Laura sat in what would have been the driver's
seat of an American car. Her pulse quickened in
time with the rising speed of the vehicle, and she
gasped and grabbed the empty dashboard as it sped
into the black opening of the tunnel...

The car flew downhill at what had to be close to
a hundred miles per hour, veering smoothly one
way or the other at forks in the road that were
widened and banked like a concrete bobsled course.
Laura was on edge. She had no means of guessing
which way the driverless vehicle would turn, and
the result was a constant fear of impending demise."

(pp. 82 - 83): "'...In order for the computer to
open the door for you, it's got to know who you
are and what you're doing. To know those things,
it maintains a real-time model of the world -- who
and what everybody and everything is, and what it
is they're doing right at this very moment. It
builds that model by processing the data it receives
from its senses. Visual, auditory, thermal,
motion -- it melds all those senses together to
form a picture of the world and everything in it...'

'And you go to all that trouble just for security?
Is Gray that much of a control freak?'

'Oh, no, no, no! It's not **just** for security.
The robots use that same world model, for example,
to avoid running into things. Those Model Three
cars whip down the roads so fast because they can
see what's up ahead of them. They know if there's
a Model Six crossing the road around the next bend.
And a Six would know when to cross because they
tap into that same world model and look both ways.
That's the beauty of building and maintaining
a complete world model. There are so many
different uses for it.'"