Picture the scene. It’s 2015 of the future. You get up in the morning, having been woken by your intelligent sensor alarm clock, which wakes you gently by setting the room heat and lighting system to a perfect sunrise on a balmy summer’s day. You head off to work in your flying car, and drink your morning coffee, produced to perfection by your robot PA.
Later on you head out to catch a flight for a business trip. Having avoided being snapped up by a 3D Jaws 19 that looms down at you from the cinema hoarding on your way to the airport, you whizz through the airport using your e-passport as security and relax back for the journey.
And now back to the 2015 reality version. You get rudely awoken in the morning an hour earlier than you set your alarm clock by your not-so-smart heating system. This is because the sensor kit attached to your bedroom radiator that controls the temperature intelligently makes a noise resembling a motorbike starting up in order to turn the radiator on. So no more waking up to a nice warm room. Instead you set the radiator to switch on just a few minutes before your alarm goes off, so you can at least get a full night's sleep even if it means getting dressed in the cold.
You leave the house, dreaming of the day that flying cars might exist and you can escape the awful tube journey. As usual, your train is delayed. As usual, this is due to the signalling system going down, which means the entire network grinds to a halt as no manual backup has yet been discovered. Of course, station staff could always stand on the platform at each station, and call ahead to clear the trains for departure, but instead we’re bound by the same old failing electronic system.
You get into the office and head to the kitchen to make your own coffee, but the milk has run out already. You reminisce about the days when the vision of RFID promised you a never-ending supply of fresh milk through your fridge talking to your local supermarket.
You decide to go to the cinema after work and, although you could watch the final Hobbit film in 3D, like most people you’re already bored with having to wear uncomfortable glasses for a few pointless extra visual effects so you opt for the old-fashioned 2D experience.
You then head off to the airport to catch a flight for a business trip, but your flight is delayed by three hours owing to an unexplained problem with the plane's telemetry system. This means waiting for the engineer back at the airline’s HQ to dig out the written manuals to determine the fault, and run through a long and complex series of tests to get the aircraft passed as fit to fly again.
The delays mean you don’t land until 1am. You’re then stuck in a huge queue to get through passport control, as the airport has decided to shut the e-passport gates as the staff required to man these gates have all gone home for the night.
I've experienced all of the above over the past week, so when I saw Bill Gates' comments on artificial intelligence (AI) I took a different view.
Gates is of the opinion that AI is something to be feared, and that at some time in the foreseeable future, we could end up overrun by T-1000s and Sonnys who’ve learned to think and feel.
"I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence," Gates revealed in a recent Reddit AMA.
"I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don't understand why some people are not concerned. First, the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that, though, the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern."
I say bring on this super intelligence. At present, we're in a halfway house. We’re reliant on technology and machines for so much of our daily lives in developed nations, anything from getting to work on time, to getting tasks done to doing the shopping, from catching up with friends to getting a medical diagnosis. But the systems at present aren’t smart enough to run perfectly or run themselves. Instead, they rely on constant human intervention, to update them to respond to any changes, to fix any errors or breakages, and to ensure they generally run smoothly.
Imagine a train signalling system intelligent enough to build a faultless backup version that kicked in if the core system ever went down. Imagine security systems like e-passport gates that managed themselves, and didn't have to be shut down at certain times of the day due to staff bedtimes. Imagine smart heating systems that could develop over time to become silent when switching on in the mornings.
As humans, we've yet to overcome some of these challenges even with years of trying, so if it takes some (hopefully friendly) robots to achieve this, I'm open to that idea.
Madeline Bennett is editor of V3.
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