THE BLOG
10/01/2012 04:36 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2012

Here Come the Robots... Can We Keep Up With Them?

This blog springboards off an editorial in The Citizen, the newspaper of Auburn, New York. The choice is not arbitrary; I know Auburn. I've shopped in its WalMart, bought half-moon cookies at a little hole-in-the-wall bakery.

I attended the baptism of one of my cousin's babies at an old Presbyterian church with authentic Tiffany windows. The day was stifling hot and humid, and the minister quoted the Lee Ann Womack song, "I Hope You Dance."

The weather in Auburn on Sunday July 22, 2012, was a sunny and pleasant 74 degrees. In the online edition of The Citizen, Brad Molloy published a piece titled "I've got my own chaos theory."

It opens with a quotation:

"Before we work on artificial intelligence why don't we do something about natural stupidity?"
- Steve Polyak

Molloy's specificity is admirable. He objects to a middle-aged man in a pickup truck who sideswiped a concrete barrier protecting some construction workers while he was texting someone on his phone. "But even after the sparks were done flying from his sideswipe, he, get this, continued to keep texting!"

Also, there are people getting high on bath salts. That one was news to me.

Stupid vs Smart

The question that occurred to me as I read Malloy's opinion piece was this: as artificial intelligence gets smarter and smarter, what will happen to the haphazard, lazy, short-sighted, stupid choices? AI won't make them. AI generally represents the work of people who keep their best in mind (whatever "best" means for the specific application at hand).

What about the kinds of intelligence uncaptured by AI, at least so far? Intuition, for example. Intuition is real.

Our Best in Mind

Here in the first world (that place with a million TV channels and fast internet connections) we know that robots are going to be part of our everyday lives someday soon. Ever talked to Siri? Siri is nothing compared with what is coming.

To me, the best image for the human-robot relationship remains that scene in Star Wars where C-3PO pompously and fussily describes himself and his purpose to Luke Skywalker. Luke is intent on fixing something and does not even bother to turn around when he says, casually, "Hello."

We say hello. We adapt. We have been adapting to changing times as long as we have been on earth.

People can love their pets and vice versa. People can bond powerfully and sometimes dangerously with others through the written word, art, and music. Why should robots be any different?

There was a study -- I forget its name -- that showed that when people took a computer survey and then were asked to evaluate their experience, their ratings were consistently higher when they did the evaluation on the same computer versus a different one. It was as if they didn't want to hurt the computer's feelings.

So, we know what we are going to do. Try to get along. Continue to love. Do stupid things such as text while driving.

The question not yet answerable: What are the robots going to do? In that scene with Luke Skywalker, suppose C-3PO had a bad robot agenda?

We know what machines programmed for intelligence would think of texting while driving. They would find a way to prevent it. Unless, of course, they don't like us at all. Unless they want to get us out of the way.

Then they would cuddle up to us with words of encouragement: "Don't worry," they would say, "Do whatever you want."

This blog appeared in slightly different form at Writer's Rest. My latest blog is Run Away! Mind-Hackers Can Harvest Your Brain!