Monday, January 09, 2017

Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and Government Control: Perfect World or Perfect Storm?

If it weren’t the print edition, I would have sworn today’s New York Times business section had been personalized for me: there were articles on self-driving cars, virtual reality, and how “Data Could Be the Next Tech Hot Button”. That precisely matches my current set of obsessions. It’s especially apt because the article on data makes a point that’s been much on my mind: government regulation may be the only factor that prevents AI-powered virtual reality from taking over the world, and governments may feel impelled to create such regulation in self-defense of their authority. The Times didn’t make that connection among its three articles.  But the fact that all three were top of mind for its editors and, presumably, readers was enough to illustrate their importance.

I’m doubly glad that these articles appeared together because they reinforced my intent to revisit these issues in a more concise fashion than my rambling post on RoseColoredGlasses.Me. I suspect thread of that post got lost in self-indulgent exposition. Succinctly, the key points were:

- Virtual reality and augmented reality will increasing create divergent “personal realities” that distance people from each other and the real world.

- The artificial intelligence needed to manage personal reality be beyond human control.

- Governments may recognize the dangers and step in to prevent them. 

Maybe these points sound simplistic when stated so plainly. I’m taking that risk because I want to be clear.  But depth may add credibility. So let me expand on each point just a bit.

- Personal reality. I covered this pretty well in the original post and current concerns about “fake news” and “fact bubbles” make it pretty familiar anyway.  One point that I think does need more discussion is how companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon have a natural tendency to take over more and more of each consumer’s experience.  It's a sort of “individual network effect” where the more data one entity has about an individual, the better job they can do giving that person the consistent experience they want.  This in turn makes it easier to convince individuals to give those companies control over still more experiences and data. I’ll stress again that no coercion is involved; the companies will just be giving people what they want. It’s pitifully easy to imagine a world where people live Apple or Facebook branded lives that are totally controlled by those organizations. The cheesy science fictions stories pretty much write themselves (or the computers can write them for us).  Unrelated observation: it's weird the discussions which Descartes and others had about the nature of reality – which sound so silly to modern ears – are suddenly very practical concerns.

- Artificial intelligence. Many people are skeptical that AI can really take control of our lives. For example, they’ll argue that machines will always need people to design, build, and repair them. But self-programming computers are here or very close (it depends on definitions), and essential machines will be designed to be self-repairing and self-improving.  Note that machines taking control doesn't require malevolent artificial intelligence, or artificial consciousness of any sort. Machines will take control simply because people let them make choices they can’t predict or understand. The problem is that unintended consequences are inevitable and for the first – and quite possibly the last – time in history, there will be no natural constraints to limit the impact of those consequences. Random example: maybe the machines will gently deter humans from breeding, something that could maximize the happiness of everyone alive while still eliminating the human race. Oops. 

- Government intervention. Will governments decide that some shared reality is needed for their countries to function properly?  How closely will they require personal reality to match actual reality (if they even admit such a thing exists)?  Will they allow private business to manage the personal reality of their citizens? Will they limit how much personal reality can be delivered by artificial intelligence? These issues all relate to questions of control. Although there’s an interesting theory* that the Internet has made it impossible for any authority to maintain itself, I think that governments will ultimately impose whatever constraints they need to survive on individuals, companies, and the Internet. This probably means governments will enforce some shared reality, although it surely won't match actual facts in every detail.  It’s less certain that  governments will control artificial intelligence, simply because the benefits of letting AI run things are probably irresistible despite the known dangers.

So, is the choice between having your reality managed by an authoritarian government or by an AI? Let's hope not.  I prefer a world where people control their own lives and base them on actual reality.  That’s still possible but it will take coordinated hard work to make it happen.

*For example, Martin Gurri’s The Revolt of the Public


1 comment:

Choozurmobile AllAboutTech said...

Virtual Reality is much satisfying when compared to AR for personal entertainment. Augmented may have more commercial applications such as google glass. See this...