Simon Carr: You think robots are taking over? Fear not

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At the American Association conference last week, futurologist Ray Kurzweil said something so unlikely that we have to assume he's pitching for research grants. He predicts we'll have artificial intelligence matching "the broad suppleness of human intelligence including our emotional intelligence by 2029." On 20 June, around tea-time.

There are many marvelous predictions out there which I'm happy to believe in. Augmented reality, yes. I want a holographic head that I can switch on like a veil when I go out. A lion's head in the Palace of Westminster. In Hackney, a shark's. And I'd very much like to be able to access the internet through my teeth.

But the broad suppleness of human intelligence?

You know how pornography drove the take-up of video players and the internet? It'll be the same with AI. We'll have robots and nanobots but outselling them all will be cutebots. They'll be able to produce the broad suppleness of intelligence required to meet demand in their specified area, I'm sure. They won't have to say very much to be credible, and contemporary programmers wil certainly be able to produce the physical action required. Whatever that might be exactly is not something we'll be going into here. But that's the thing about artificial intelligence.

Making machines think like humans is one thing; the way we increasingly think like machines is another. Mechanical intelligence is increasing all through advanced society. The more advanced we are the more mechanical we have become. We can blame the division of labour for breaking down complex projects into simple, repeatable here-and-there tasks. We can blame targets and "best practice" for reducing personal initiative. We can blame response cue sheets in customer call centres. We can blame that damned assertiveness training technique broken record ("Yes, I quite understand your problem with refunds but I want my meat."). And modern exam techniques for modern exams that require such particular paragraphs – they must take their share of it.

In the most human of professions, psychotherapy, you get doctors saying one of three things, "Mm hm" and "How does that make you feel?" and "That'll be £55."

So there is convergence. Humanity is on the brink of becoming so stupid that machines can replicate their intelligence.

But the other way round? It'll never happen. The Turing Test for artificial intelligence will never be passed. This is the test that puts a computer in one room, you in another and you text it questions. It texts you back answers and you have to decide whether it's a person or a machine. Some chatbots try and fool you with Dr Therapy type answers, "So, that must be interesting, how do you feel about that?"

But just ask it the questions that concern humans and you will never get a reply. Are you afraid of getting old? Will you have enough money to pay for your nursing care? When do you think you will die? How frightened of death are you? Are you admired enough by your colleagues? Why does Edith Piaf's voice bring tears to the eyes?

Machines aren't afraid of death. They'll never be able to pass themselves off as human. They have no ability to leer at the gigachips in a cutebot. And when someone says, oh yes, oh that's good, more molasses now, NOW! the poor little cutebot will just not know what to do. That would be the single example of a human response it could produce.

Please can I be paid to watch this

A new chapter has been written in the history of labour law. Reality-show participants in France have sued the programme-makers for overtime. The court has ruled that those appearing on Temptation Island, left, are company staff with full employee rights. Presumably they can't be sacked so they'll be living on the island until they can't face temptation any more. But what about us, the viewers? Shouldn't we be paid? Watching these programmes is work, not pleasure. Are we to be exploited, our time taken without compensation, our health damaged, our prospects blighted without any sense of responsibility from the programme owners? As one of the contestants said, "It isn't work, it's hell". I know exactly what he meant.

The Poles are going home! For the first time in years more are leaving than arriving. There are a million here now, it appears, but Poland is booming and the zloty's soaring against the pound. The economy is working the other way round for economic migrants.

We've plugged into several circles of migrant Europeans here in Oxford. One arrived three years ago without a bean and not a word of English. From minimum wage work, he's driving a BMW now.

Immigrants are all the same. I've been an immigrant myself, in more than one country. When you go somewhere new you don't have any friends so you work harder than your hosts, you do two jobs, and you save prodigiously so you can go home.

It's a peculiar thing about living overseas. It's fine for years, and then you go past a certain point. The longer I stayed, the more foreign I felt.



s.carr@independent.co.uk

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