Terry Mejdrich

The past column on GPS guided robots and vehicles, and the development of AI (artificial intelligence), prompted several comments from readers, some of which we’ll address here.

Most found the reliance on computers and technology in general for self-driving vehicles downright scary. The technology itself may be “safe,” or at least potentially safe, but secure operation would require very uniform conditions on the ground. The physical roads, street signs, traffic signals, etc. would have to be virtually the same everywhere. The computer software would have to be able to distinguish between various road conditions and hazards. Earlier last year, a driverless car killed a woman as she crossed the street in a pedestrian zone. The vehicle did not “see” her. Creating uniform conditions will require a vast expenditure on infrastructure improvements. Despite the challenges, multiple companies are proceeding with a vast amount of R&D and funding to make this emerging technology a reality. Interestingly, and not surprisingly, most people under 30 do not find this scary at all; most skepticism comes from the “older” generations.

Then there is the question of AI. Lots of scary movies and novels are out there with the plot line being AI gets so powerful it takes over humanity. Usually, these stories have a hero that, with a small group of people, somehow manage to survive and fighting impossible odds save humanity.  But worries about AI are not limited to science fiction. Some of the most influential minds in science today have raised warnings about future AI that might render humans extinct or at least irrelevant. Even at the present time, computers regulate nearly every aspect of modern society without being “smart.” Medical care, banking, housing, government agencies, defense, utility companies, research, and more are all dependent upon computer technology. There are even computers that control other computers, taking humans out of the picture altogether. Even without devious intent, the failure of a “master computer” could bring modern civilization to its knees. These “controls” exhibit a primitive form of AI. At the present rate of development, AI may exceed human intelligence within 10 years. And the emergent AI will have a distinct advantage over the average person; it will have the entire body of information available to it via the Internet and can process that information in milliseconds of time. Advanced Artificial Intelligence that will eventually be far superior to human intelligence is almost inevitable, and probably within a decade or two. We are the Creator and should be mindful of what we create.

The past column also brought up the enigma of “time.” For nearly all of human history, time was considered a constant. The march of time was the same everywhere. Everywhere on Earth or indeed the Universe, time advanced the same. A minute on Earth-bound clocks would be the same as a clock on the moon or mars or another galaxy a billion light years away. The great thinker Isaac Newton based his formulas on the presumption that time was not variable. It was Albert Einstein that realized and proved with his famous relativity formulas that time does not progress the same everywhere in the Universe or even on Earth. In fairness, in Newton’s time clocks were not accurate enough to record the slight differences that occur. But every experimental and observational check on Einstein’s work has proved it true. Time is flexible.

Time is affected by two major factors: Mass and velocity. The closer you get to a “center of mass” (like the Earth, sun, etc.), the slower time progresses. In supermassive objects like black holes with millions of times the mass of the sun, time nearly grinds to a halt.  

Extreme velocity, too, slows time. You depart Earth in a space ship and accelerate up to a significant percent the speed of light. In your spaceship, everything would seem normal. But a few years later when you returned to Earth, decades would have passed.  

The strange connection between time, mass, and velocity has been proven by experimentation and observation multiple times. The Universe turns out to be a strange place.

Email Terry Mejdrich at mejdrichto@yahoo.com.

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