Ken's Korner Newsletter Logo
July 2015
Are the Machines Taking Over?
Artificial Intelligence

Is Artificial Intelligence and machines taking over our lives?

Well yes they did but that happened twenty years ago. The transmission in my car was first touched by a human when they added the lubricant at the end of the assembly line. It had been entirely assembled and installed by machines. The car is old enough now to buy its own liquor and has driven enough miles to have reached the moon. (It leaks a little but it is still running!)

It seems everything these days is being done by machines.

  • We make light bulbs in buildings with no lights on.
  • We build better cars faster for less money with robots.
  • We use computers to build other computers.
  • We even have automated machines to build houses.

On a modern assembly line you turn the lights on for one of three reasons.

  1. Setup and get ready for production.
  2. Take a tour though and show off the facility.
  3. Something broke and you have to go in and fix it.

Robots don’t need light to work.

It not only saves money on lighting but reduces the heat load on the HVAC. While most industrial robots are purpose built and not at all humanoid there are some exceptions.

You may have seen robot competitions on TV but these are just amateurs with limited resources. Check out what someone with the resources and expertise of Honda can do with Asimo! Or the adorable little Nao, (pronounced “now”) from Aldebaran.

And it gets better; the day will come when you would not get in a car if it was driven by a human. That would be crazy! A human could not possibly see that well, react that fast or be that precise. What is the cause of the vast majority of auto accidents today? Human error!

It has already happened with airplanes. Airliners fly their “highway in the sky” and the pilot does very little once the plane is in the air. What is the cause of the vast majority of airliner crashes? Human error!

And the day will come when you would not let a human doctor operate on you for much the same reasons that you would not let a human drive the car. Welcome to the AutoDoc!

But before you commit a ritual Hari Kari or surrender to Siri stop! The future may not be so very dark for humans.

Robots are fantastic for doing all sorts of difficult tasks at high speed and with amazing accuracy. But there are some tasks that computers are very bad at performing. Pattern recognition is a big one. Teaching the computer to pick the good apple is really difficult. But a five year old human child can learn that in just minutes.

The Turin test, humorous and/or sarcastic language is beyond the computer’s, (and some people’s) ability to understand, at this time. It is possible that may change as heuristic algorithms get better. However most human children can understand sarcasm and jokes by the time they are five years old. Some have even begun to master the art.

You cannot get a robot that will vacuum my house. If you were thinking about the Roomba check out this video of Automation Gone Wrong. But to a human this is a simple, almost boring task.

Attempts to have computers fix the car have been a dismal failure. Build the car Yes, maintain the car No! The same is true for building and construction. Robot plumbers, electricians and mechanics are a very long way in the future.

Nor is AI likely to write a novel or compose music anytime soon. Skills that take a lot of pattern recognition like fine art, sculpting and painting are very difficult for computers. Robot hair stylists and robot police officers are unlikely propositions.

We perceive the world around us through our senses and computers do the same thing but they don’t have the same senses. Therefore they do not perceive the world the same way we do. The AI attempts to stack several small blocks by taking the first one and placing it where the top block should be and letting go. The block then falls to the floor but the machine is undaunted. It takes the next block and places it right below the location of the first block and lets it go. The second block falls to the floor too and the machine continues this show until it comes to the last block and puts it in the correct place.

The US Military has put a lot of effort into AI with some interesting results. They flew over an empty field and took pictures of the field below. Then they moved several M1A tanks into the field with some other equipment in obvious view. They flew over the field again and took pictures of the field with the weaponry in view.

Then they gave the picture to the AI program with instructions to sort them out and let it “learn” to sort them into two groups. After some time the machine had correctly placed all the pictures with tanks in one group and all the pictures of the empty field in another group. Then they gave some new pictures from the same shoot and the AI promptly placed them in the correct group. Ho-ray it works, NOT!

They went out and took new pictures and gave them to the AI. Everything fell apart. The machine couldn’t get the right pictures in the right groups at all. What happened? After some detailed review it was discovered that the AI wasn’t looking at the tanks it was looking at the shadows. In the first group all the pictures had the shadows going one way. The second group was taken several hours later after moving all the equipment into place and the shadows were going the other way. The AI didn’t even notice the tanks.

If you run up to the robot in the hardware store and yell “fire” the robot replies “fire extinguishers are on Aisle 5 and I can take you there” in both English and Spanish. A better plan may be to just get out of the building!

It seems that humans have survived the Automation Revolution and we are still here. You just can’t get rid of us that easily.

Go back to the top

Are You in The Cloud?

You may be in “The Cloud” and not even know it.
DarkWebCloud Computing

Many common services are “cloud based”. If you have a Facebook or Twitter account, if you checked you bank account on line, bought something at Amazon or eBay even set up a Gmail account then you have been in the cloud.

In some cases you don’t have a choice. AutoCAD 360, Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft Office 365 are all cloud based programs. You pay a subscription fee to access their network and the documents are created and stored on their network. A server somewhere in the world has all the apps and another has the documents. What you have is just the remote control keypad with a big viewing panel. All of the work is done at the remote location.

It’s not a bad thing; in fact it can be a very good thing. Information and communications are at your fingertips. Your financial resources are available, wherever you are, even if you don’t know where you are.

Is the public cloud secure?

Well it is at least as secure as most home and small office systems and probably more secure. Some larger companies have very extensive security features while others, (remember Sony) are way behind the curve. Government security, well that kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it. The short answer is yes the cloud is secure for non-sensitive information.

Some organizations maintain their own e-mail servers or virtual servers in a private cloud and only allow access to a select group of users. The security is controlled by that organization and is usually good but again for non-sensitive information.

So you should be careful what you put in the cloud. Once it is out there in the cloud there is no bringing it back. Your security strategy for data in the cloud should get the same level of thought and rigor as for your on-premise assets.

What you safely can put in the cloud?
Music and movies, even though there are many streaming services many people still to use the MP3. Also any information and/or documents that you want to place in the public domain.

What you should not to put in the cloud.
Your private personal stuff, if you don’t want three hundred million of you closest friends and neighbors to have it don’t put it out there.

And as always with any important data remember to make a back up!

Go back to the top

Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Ken's Korner Home Page