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Springfords LLP blog

Some news, views and comments about everything and anything, relevant and irreverent.

Aye, Robot

21 September 2015

Will your friendly Springfords advisor be terminated by an accountsandtaxbot, and your service provision taken over by a relentless, artificial intelligence.  Not anytime soon.

Moores‘ Law of Artificial Intelligence is well known.  Broadly put, it states that computing power will double every eighteen months.  Ever wondered why that lightening fast laptop you bought five years ago is now a struggling lump of silicon?  It’s because the stuff it interacts with on a daily basis is now designed to operate eight times faster than when you peeled off the plastic wrap. Frustrated Yosemite and Windows10 upgraders will already know exactly what we’re talking about.  Laptop retailers will know as well, but probably feel somewhat differently disposed towards the founder of Intel.

Which of course brings us to the big question stirred up by the recent BBC digital week - whatever a digital week might be.  It’s fashionable to be fearful again.  It’s the twenty-first century nemesis - a software cold war.   None of us feels like we’re doubling in processing power every year and a half, so how long will it be before our tablets are smarter than us?  How long before it’s doing our jobs?  How long before we can retrain as Bladerunners?

Too late, is the answer in certain industries.  The robots have already taken over, it’s just not in a subjugating humanity into a life of slavery sort of way.

When Big Blue beat Gary Kasparov, the chess grandmaster, most of us thought our time as the dominant species was at an end. Upon his own Nexus 6 to T1000 checkmate, Kasparov famously threw a tantrum, and a teacup, after Big Blue’s coup de grace.  The computer just sat there, as impassive as HAL.  It didn’t throw a tantrum, or drink a cup of tea.  Maybe it thought about opening the pod bay doors and spacing his hysterical opponent, but, more likely, it just sat there, flashing ‘game over’ until some subservient biological entity from IBM came along and hit return.

There, in a protocol as succinct as control-alt-delete, is the answer.  Even Star Trek’s Mr Data had a reset button that needed pressing every other episode.  Someone had to do it.  Someone human.  Someone who can actually think abstractly, without programming, and while drinking a cup of tea. 

Ask any computer scientist - or a ten-year-old - and they’ll tell you the age of the creative thinking machine is as far away now as it ever was. Machines may be able to process their options faster than lightening, weighing up the parameters the mortals have programmed into them with the swiftness of Mercury, but the best estimates of the best computers put their level of actual intellect right up there alongside a particularly slow-learning earthworm that skipped school a lot.

Robots, in the guise of computers, ATMs, and mechanical welders are already all around us.  They’re in our desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone, watch and (fashion police forbid) eyewear - helping us do more things more quickly.  They help us park the car, mow the lawn and vacuum the carpets.  However, as for the one robot that does all that, and plays chess like a grandmaster, and looks like Maria from Metropolis with a creative thinking mind and feelings - that’s a cybernetic leap too far.

By the way, if you do feel as though you really are doubling in processing ability every year and a half - we hear Channel Four is auditioning for the next season of Humans.


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