Experts Worry Machines May Outsmart Man


According to one of my favorite journalists Eric Effron, Executive Editor of The Week, it was disturbing enough when scientists developed chess-playing computers that could vanquish even the world's great chess masters. Now comes the alarming news that machines could soon be putting us to shame in our national pastime.

Japanese researchers last week unveiled robots that can hit and pitch a baseball with remarkable acumen. The robotic hitter swings only at balls in the strike zone and almost never misses, while the pitcher robot throws strikes 90 percent of the time and is even developing a wicked curveball. The robots can't yet spit chewing tobacco, but with technology getting exponentially smarter as well as more agile (see my previous blog posts about kissing a robot and socially assitive robots), the prospect of a machine-ruled apocalypse, long a mainstay of science fiction, is starting to seem a little less far fetched.

Its not just Terminator aficionados who worry about the "rise of the machines." A group of leading computer scientists, artificial intelligence researchers, and "roboticists" recently convened a private conference in Menlo Park, CA, to debate the need for limits on research that "might lead to loss of human control over computer-based systems," according to a distressingly nonchalant account in The New York Times. Among the experts' concerns: What would happen if machines developed their own capacity to build ever-smarter and stronger machines? And what about robots that can "kill autonomously"?

The hope, apparently, is that with the right guidelines, the cutting-edge science that has been moving these scenarios into the realm of the possible will improve the human condition--rather than, say, spawn lethal, superintelligent machines that will eventually wipe out humanity. Those rules better be good. At the very least, though, Eric Effron suspects the machines will kick our sorry, human butts in baseball. But I might add, robot butts aren't nearly as fun to look at during the seventh inning stretch ;-)
NBFABS,
Erin



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