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I do like robots. Really I do. They have been getting some bad press in recent years, but as I have said, I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m only human, however, and now some doubts have crept in about granting that benefit of the doubt.

Robots are only tools, of course, like hammers and pencils. If properly designed and made they do exactly what they are supposed to do. That certitude is their destiny. For machines, including robots, it is their strength…and their weakness. Unlike me, they simply do what they do and never have a second thought about it. That may be okay with pencils and hammers, but when it comes to robots, I’m starting to worry.

You may have heard the warnings from Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk about the possibly lethal dangers in the rise of artificial intelligence. And perhaps you noticed that IBM’s Deep Blue has opened several cans of digital whupass on mere human chess grandmasters. Steve and Elon are now wondering whether that kind of wicked smarts might someday turn into a genuinely wicked smarts and eventually push aside all of us poor, self-doubting humans. Their alarm had already got me looking sideways at robots, but now I see that the ‘bots have taken that superiority one step further.

This week, a couple of other smart dudes unveiled a robot that solves a Rubik’s Cube — complete with all the appropriate twists and spins required — in just over a second. A second! This little device somehow combines the braininess required to decide how to manipulate the puzzle with the lightning-fast dexterity to carry it out. It is an amazing thing to see. Simply place your cube carefully in the robot’s clutches and press the button. The machine executes its task in one graceless spasm. It is utterly sure in its movements and way too fast for the naked eye.

I think it is that sureness that spooks me most, especially when it is matched with all that speed and smarts. The robot functioned completely without hesitation. And why shouldn’t it? A machine has no reason to have second thoughts, no cause to worry about consequences. If it fails, the reason will always be human error because humans designed and built it…even if it is smarter and stronger and faster than its makers.

Humans, obviously, are less perfect than their machines. We make mistakes all the time. That is our nature, perhaps even our destiny. With that kind of track record, is it any wonder that I am hobbled now by doubts?

The doubt here is whether we might make a very big mistake by creating a machine that is better than us in every way and absolutely certain that it is doing the right thing. I sincerely doubt that I would like that robot.
Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon