Vernor Vinge, the mathematician and author, once predicted the technological singularity which states that computational technology once achieving a certain threshold would accelerate past human intelligence. This possibility sounds like fiction, but it’s a concern serious technologists have voiced.
Recently, a team of researchers in Aberystwyth Univserity in Wales, created a robot that could formulate theories and make scientific theories on its own. The machine made its own independent scientific discovery about baker’s yeast. While we’re decades from declaring our love for our new robot overlords, this type of advance is another step towards the singularity.
Though I think its more likely in a few decades that we would all laugh about how we fretted over the robot apocolypse. We would chuckle because these new thinking machines had innovated cures for cancer, super-efficient renewable energy sources to replace fossil fuels, and a machine that goes “ping!”
I’m not downplaying the supposed danger, because I do think it is a possibility. However, the benefits of a machine that can think for itself in limited venues are immense. One of the interesting side effects of the Internet is the creation of a giant datasphere. Before data was locked away in print, but now it flows freely across the world. As data becomes more fluid, thinking machines that can create scientific discoveries would be extremely useful. Even the iPhone has something to add to the equation as a data collection device. Suddenly, grand problems with fractal-like complexities can be tackled by not-so-simple machines.
Of course, the unscrupulous could use such thinking machines to create a new mathematical models that could game the financial system for massive amounts of personal gain. This is happened in the 80s when computers allowed for complex computations and the field of derivatives was used in new and increasingly destructive ways. So while I do wonder about the threat of the technological singularity and possible robot apocalypse, for the time being, I’m more worried about the good old flesh and blood computers that have been wrecking havoc on our civilization for millenniums.