Re: [isml] Spielberg is terrified of 'intelligent computers' (fwd)

From: Olga Bourlin (
Date: Thu Aug 30 2001 - 05:56:30 MDT

From: "Anders Sandberg" <>

> > Spielberg says: "I don't want to live the day when my laptop jumps off
> > table and walks through the house.
> >
> > "I want to say: Don't let it happen. It would be awful if one day a
> > mechanical child or an artificial gigolo replaced a person of flesh and
> > blood."
> Well, another quote to add to the list of Spielberg conservatism.
> Another statement he made (around the time of Jurassic Park, of
> course) was "dinosaurs had their chance, so it is irresponsible to
> bring them back". I wonder if he would really claim it about the dodo?

Syndicated Clarence Page also weighs in with the same point of view re the
Israeli "AI" child (discussed on this list a couple of weeks ago). It seems
the prevailing point of view is the comparison of real "flesh-and-blood" vs.
cold artificial intelligence (however, note that when it comes to
superstition [e.g., "God"] v. real "flesh-and-blood" materialism,
superstition wins hands down):

... how about trying virtual kids?
Thursday, August 30, 2001


WASHINGTON -- Scientists in Israel are "raising" a computer program as if it
were a child, according to news reports. As a parent, I have a simple
question for those scientists: Are you sure you want to do this?

The company called Artificial Intelligence reportedly loves its little
bundle of electronic joy. The company claims the program, nicknamed "Hal,"
has learned about as much language as an 18-month-old child. It reportedly
has learned to like toys, bananas, "playing in the park" and bedtime

"He is a curious, very clever child, someone that always wants to know
more," said neurolinguist Dr. Anat Treister-Goren who is Hal's "mommy" and
readily admits her attachment, according to Reuters.

I am sure the scientific possibilities here are tremendous. Maybe someday
future humans will be able to download their own virtual baby, the way some
people download music today.

Nevertheless, aren't computers frustrating enough without programming one to
behave like a child?

Sure, computer rearing is easy now. The program is young, cute, vulnerable
and innocent. No diapers to change. No post-midnight feedings. No spit-up on
the shoulders of your nice new suit. No colic.

But just wait until it hits its "terrible two's," the age when a child, once
it has learned how to talk, quickly learns how to talk back.

Ah, such an amazing rosy joy lights up in a child's eyes once it discovers
the empowering little word, "No."

"Would you like some more mashed potatoes?" I asked my son at the dinner
table one evening during this treacherous stage of life.

"No!" he barked indignantly from his elevated perch atop a telephone book.

"Would you like some more applesauce?"


"Would you like some ice cream?

"No. ..." He stopped for a moment, realizing he had been had. Then,
responded, "Yes!"


Thus begins years of increasingly sophisticated levels of argumentation and
debate. A battle of wits immediately ensues between parent and child that
does not end until, oh, maybe never.

Wait, for example, until time comes for that little computer to go to
pre-school and all it wants to do is rest on its pudgy little algorithms and
watch the Cartoon Network.

"You need to get an education."

"This is educational."

Before you know it, if its plug is not pulled, the computer is entering its
teen years, a time of ennui, mercurial moodiness, identity crises and the
firm conviction that one's parents are the dumbest creatures on the planet.

At least, you probably won't have to worry about your computer asking for
the keys to the car.

But what if it starts dialing up its computer friends behind your back?

What if it makes a deal with your car's computer to run off to Silicon
Valley for the weekend?

How are you going to punish your teen computer by ordering it "grounded"?
"Grounding," in electronic lingo, is a good thing for sensitive computer

And, if your cyber-tyke gets through that rough teen patch, what about
college? Somehow the thought of a "My Kid Is an Honor Computer at MIT's
Artificial Intelligence Lab" bumper sticker doesn't have much zing to it.

Besides, as my parents might well have asked, does it know enough to come in
out of the rain?

So far, computer scientists have programmed computers to solve math
calculations that would dazzle Albert Einstein. But they've taken only baby
steps in conquering the mundane, everyday form of intelligence that we
humans call "common sense."

For example, the Web site for Cycorp, an artificial-intelligence company
based in Austin, Texas, calls itself "the leading supplier of formalized
common sense."

Cyc (pronounced like "psych") products, the site says, have "an immense
multi-contextual knowledge base" and a highly efficient "inference engine"
to capture "a large portion of what we normally consider consensus knowledge
about the world."

The result? "Cyc knows that trees are usually outdoors, that once people die
they stop buying things, and that glasses of liquid should be carried

Way to go, Cyc. Have a cookie. And don't get your circuits wet.

Frankly, I still prefer to raise kids the old-fashioned way. It's
frustrating, but it's also fun.



Clarence Page is a columnist with the Chicago Tribune. His column is syndicated by Tribune Media.

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