Today in 2004, Dan Pulcrano of the Metro published “Triumph of the Robots: When Google tweaks its search rankings, whole economies tremble in fear”:
The rapid ascent of invisible robots is a unforeseen twist in the sci-fi playbook. The theme of intelligent machines achieving tyrannical domination over human beings has cropped up in numerous screenplays, though their exercise of power was never this elegant and subtle. A Star Wars laser shootout provides much better visuals. These guys just kind of snuck up on us.
And, while we knew that assembly-line labor would be replaced by robotic assemblers with welding torches, smug information workers like, ahem, newspaper editors will not be spared as the robot invasion proceeds.
It turns out that Google News does a pretty good job of sifting, ranking and organizing a mass of information larger than any carbon-based brain could process. This will no doubt have unintended social consequences. Just as program trading crashed the stock market, robotized news filtering will one day change a government or keep one in power, or cost some lives…
The current generation of information bots is likely the Model T Ford version of what lies ahead. Robots will become our personal information gatekeepers, provide content-based spam filtering, answer our mail and determine who gets through to us on the phone. Eventually, robots will begin to route our physical movements, providing Homeland Security border services, examining our biometrics as we enter buildings, guiding our vehicles on the freeways and braking at stop signs. …
Technology usually advances ahead of the social wisdom to control it, and benefits arrive in tandem with risks, from Prometheus’ taming of the fire god to the exploitation of nuclear energy. Prometheus was the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, about the robot that got away, just as some early robot science fiction drew from the legend of the golem, a clay figurine that came to life in 1580, the creation of Rabbi Judah Low bin Bezulel of Prague. While the golem proved useful in fending off enemies, the good rabbi was careful to give his clay man a rest at night and each Sabbath by slipping a piece of paper in its mouth. When the golem developed a soul and the rabbi feared that it had grown too powerful, he rendered it lifeless and left it undisturbed in an attic, where centuries later, the story goes, its imprint struck fear in the hearts of invading Germans.
The intersection of the next generation of technology with global warfare and accelerating economic forces carries a new set of risks. We’ll have to know when to put the paper in the golem’s mouth and return it to the attic from time to time.
Last month, Google acquired Boston Dynamics, a leader in mobile robots technology, and the eighth robotics company it has acquired in 2013. “Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care,” said The New York Times.