OMEGA MAN

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Letters -

My thanks for the copy of Pop­u­lar Me­chan­ics (March 2017). I nat­u­rally turned to the page, ‘Mecha Me­chan­i­cal Mon­sters’ (page 30). Af­ter read­ing it with much in­ter­est, mem­o­ries of my early child­hood came flush­ing back. In the 1971 film Omega Man ( based on the 1954 novel I am Leg­end), Charl­ton He­ston, did not have what we would call a su­pe­rior in­tel­lect, but he had a goal – to kill his vic­tim. We are in pos­ses­sion of slaves, which are per­sis­tent plod­ders.

Com­put­ers do many things bril­liantly. In 1994, one of them de­feated the chess grand mas­ter Gary Kas­parov. When taught the rules of a game, they can of­ten de­feat their own teach­ers. They are able to sort through bil­lions of pieces of in­for­ma­tion in sec­onds, solv­ing prob­lems in math­e­mat­ics and data pro­cess­ing that no hu­man would be even able to at­tempt. But, they can only do one thing at a time. Now, a new method of pro­gram­ming com­put­ers has been dis­cov­ered, soft­ware that may not only en­able ma­chines to out­per­form the hu­man mind, but may also en­able ma­chines to ac­tu­ally think for them­selves.

The crea­tures we cre­ate might not like the hu­man race as we do. The ob­vi­ous dan­ger is that we might not be around much longer, or we might lead just a slave-like ex­is­tence. Peo­ple who say it will never hap­pen are not be­ing re­al­is­tic. If some­thing is more in­tel­li­gent than us, we will not be ‘Top Dogs’ on Earth any more. This is the log­i­cal con­clu­sion of work in the field of ro­bot­ics and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence. It is fright­en­ing; I don’t like to think about it. But if ma­chines can be made as in­tel­li­gent as hu­mans, then that’s re­ally it for mankind.

It will not be dif­fi­cult, in the near fu­ture, for ma­li­cious peo­ple to build killer ro­bots. It may be, of course, that an Omega Man sce­nario will never come into ex­is­tence. But it nev­er­the­less re­mains as one of the ter­ri­fy­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties of the not-so-dis­tant fu­ture.

To the Pop­u­lar Me­chan­ics team, thanks for the in­ter­est­ing and amaz­ing mag­a­zine. Kr­ish De Ch­e­sarae Pillay Take it easy, Kr­ish. – Lind­sey

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