Coping: With Robots, Intelligence, and Awareness


That thing over to the right is a robot…a quadruped…and one of the fastest in the world.

And of high interest to the military.

Reason?  Because when you take off a couple of hundred pounds of packs, the robot, which has an onboard engine to power it, makes a dandy mobile weapons platform or battlefield surveillance drone.

And that gets me back to a childhood where I read every scrap of science fiction I could get my hands on, because deep down inside, robots are (and were) a major fascination.

Let’s cut to the chase, though, because the precision of our collective thinking will define future choices in terms of policy. 

I have, on several occasions been less than 100% precise in my language use about robots and often lump them into the same bit-bucket as robotics and the evolution of the “replacement for your bag of skin filled with bones that presently passes for human bodies. 

Good news and bad here:  The human body comes with a whole range of sensual pleasures such as food, sex, sound for the sake of art, eyes to behold majestic scenery, and so forth.

The Kurzweilian future envisions a world where the line between humans changes up a bit.  A robotic arm here, an artificial leg there, a nano-tube artificial lung, and first thing you know, the major parts have been replaced and we begin to become something else.

Reader Keith called me out, on a further level of distinction, and I’d like to share this with you because it is very good insight into a whole range of problems describing the evolving world of possibilities and how we use language amongst ourselves to talk about it.

Specifically, he’s worried about precision when it comes to discussion about robots becoming “aware.”


   Not to “pick nits,” but isn’t “self-awareness” actually better characterized as “other-awareness”? 

Humans (and smarter animals…you should meet my parrot) are completely self-absorbed until they realize that there are entities “out there” which are separate from themselves; but can be manipulated into serving the greater good of the newly aware “self” intelligence. 

For instance, a healthy human child becomes aware of “the other” (usually Mom and those big soft serve feeding devices) at a very young age.  The child quickly learns that the “other” can be manipulated into action to serve the self by screaming it’s foul little head off until this mysterious other arrives with pacification devices.  Animals however take longer to develop this sense of self. 

For instance, we’ve all (we country folk) seen a rooster “attack” its own image in a reflective surface.  The bird has no sense that the reflection is “itself.” 

However, IMHO, animals who are raised by humans develop this sense of self at a relatively early age (quicker than they do in the wild).  You can accuse me of anthropomorphizing, however a parrot chick that is raised by hand understands “me” and “mine” very clearly. 

They may think their people are birds; but they, like the infant, know that if you make enough noise, you will get that other to bring you objects of pacification.  Mango is nesting so the “need” is balls of newspaper for her to shred for her nest box.  She asks for them: “Mango want paper.” It’s not grammatically correct; but it is as clear as a bell.

I’ve blithered enough…I’m trying to be aware of the needs of the other…so I’ll hush.”

Hardly a blither!  Indeed, if anything, it gets us to the problem which algometicians (new word, use it often and PayPal me a dime each time, please.;  It’s the people who create algorithms for programmers…) and their acuity of thought.

On the one hand, we know that first robots will learn the basis of looking ahead x-number of moves.  Then, with some work, they will develop weighted future-potential matrices and will be programmed to make choices based on a programmable set of “values.”  From there, they will self-optimize, and presumably the onboard values will include high-standing for “others”.

As with any marketing analysis, we can see how the “new niches” will lay out, using this type of model.  We can see not only where we are, where we might be going, but with a new Star Trek movie ion the works, it also gives us some keen insights into the Prime Directive.

Our guest level (and PhD level prof, by the way) who points out the importance of otherness as a key metric is exactly right.

A couple of reads on point are worth reviewing:  “Chappie and the Future of Moral Machines” is one of them.  The other is a note in Forbes about how “Clearpath Robotics Raises $11.1 Million To Build Ethical Industrial Robots.”

We run into all kinds of problems looking at the borderlines:  A “thing” becomes a “machine” becomes a “robot” becomes a “human?”

That’s a stretch, but we need to begin looking at definitions carefully, since we are building and deploying all of them right now.  A thing might be a load of iron ore, a machine might be an ingot of iron, a machine might be that iron changed into a production line part, a robot welding up product under computer control, and the human might be the banker behind the scenes, making sure to take enough “skim” so that no one else gets to make or keep as much money as he/she/they do.

Sounds like a pretty quirky thing to be talking about, but another articles out in the past week about a robotic arm that can reproduce itself is also very disconcerting to me and folks like reader Ken:

computer arm that replicates itself.. this is scary.. what is even scarier is the new software in the cloud seri Or Watson that answers questions.. I have an acquaintance  that is a retired scientist and worked on robotics.. anyway in his retirement he is attempting to write his legacy in the form of a computer program that can be self recognizing and learning from what it encounters..For me that is a scary thing to have a computer that has access to the cloud.. J

ust imagine the  one new thing they have is online street view of homes for sale.. now imagine google maps with street view and being able to turn and take a tour of any home along the street all on the cloud.. or to have access to to anyone’s records. recently I couldn’t’ get my health records from the doctor but when I went looking all of it was available on the net.. .. I argue with him at least three times a week on what this could be used for and just how devastating it could be.. check out Pet man on you tube and realize this is what has been released to the public.

Fortunately, here on the downslope of the big Life Curve, we may not be around for anything near resolution of this problem.  The Great War seems to come, no matter what, and high civilizations fall.  Been that way throughout history.

What’s remarkable is how in the short span of just 50-years, the social consciousness of the world has changed so remarkably.

When I was growing up, it was still acceptable for middle class kids to play “Cowboys and Indians.”  Looking back, that may have been because humans were bumping up a notch in terms of group self-awareness.  We knew there was something about our relationship with first peoples we screwed up, but it was covered up by profiteering in Hollywood.  Ever go back and count how many Westerns were made with first peoples as victims?

Fast forward 50 years, though, and C/I has all but disappeared.  And, instead of looking backwards to a time of heroism and exceptionalism (which were mostly delusional and imposed on others with brute force) society is no longer looking backwards, but forwards a bit.

Kids today are more likely to be playing with “robosapiens”  like the WowWee MiP Robot RC Robot.  Nice thing about robots is they are, for now, a new class of thinking that we can “bend me shape me, any way you want me…” and that’s a fair description of the field at present.

The fundamental issues of robotics – like using them to police or for military conquest – aren’t even on the table.

Owners and the bosses carefully circumscribe choice.  Yet military robots are coming or DARPA would not be pouring effort into them, and only a blind man would miss how easily “pack robots” can turn into weapons of mass destruction.  We know that because of how many seasons “Robot Wars” was on television?

Robotics and economics share some common ground:  Both are terribly important to the working man.

In both cases, the Owner/Bosses of “the system” have a vested interest in suppressing one key “Truth.”  In economics, it’s that things don’t get more expensive, money gets debased and more of a diluted fiat (made-up) currency is required to buy things.  In robotics the big lie is they are coming to help humans live better. 

The truth is they are coming because we need some new area of expansion for the economy.  Absent agreement, even now, on core programming issues (job replacement and mass killing) we are once again children in the tinder-dry forest, playing with matches.

Like atomic power, a similar outcome may be expected.

A Generalized Aircraft Parts Lesson

Attitude Indicator on the old airplane is about to be replaced.  Current one shows right wing low all the time, and in cold weather it is taking far too long to erect.  So out with the old before we go out to Arizona to visit kids next week, or week after.

To the point:  So I’ve been  watching the price of such things on eBay.  The closest thing I could find was a used Sigma Tek 5000-series (approved for certified aircraft, not homebuilt/experimental) for $745.  I went back and forth with the seller and was counter-offered $705 to my $450 offer.  No deal.

Turns out, I was able to find a shop up in Kansas where such devices are overhauled. and the price was $550 for a zero-timed indicator.

Lesson:  At least in aircraft parts, the price hierarchy seems to be:

1.  Overhaul shop.

2.  eBay

3.  Major national aircraft parts house.

I would have skipped the whole eBay dance (which ate a week) because in the end, I wanted a very particular product and I was not willing to compromise.  And it was interesting to see how the same unit was $550 direct, $745 on eBay, and $950 from the big national retailer.

May apply in other things, too, so for what it’s worth.  Don’t know where C/L (Craigslist) would be in the pecking order, but didn’t find anything I wanted there.

Shared with the idea that there are two sides to the personal budget:  How much you make and how much you spend.  If you don’t spend much, you don’t need to work so hard, you can slow down and relax, and actually have some fun in life.

Reader Feedback

We lost a reader last week. 

A fellow sent in a comment to our comments section and it was approved because what he had to say was valuable and contributed to this discussion side of this site.  Unfortunately, he didn’t want to be identified and so he asked his comment to be removed…and of course, it was.

But I’d like to restate this so it’s perfectly clear to everyone:  If you send in an EMAIL to my email (below) I may use it as “grist” for a column.  But if you send a COMMENT about a column, in the Comments section, then that will be shared/posted.

Sorry for any confusion on point, but that’s one of the assumptions of the modern age; that people automatically discriminate between comments and emails, but t’ain;t necessarily so.

Please mention UrbanSurvival to your friends now and then.  No telling how long it will take to come up with a replacement for the lost reader who, at last count, represents about 1% of our audience.

Thank you – and write when you break-even…


7 thoughts on “Coping: With Robots, Intelligence, and Awareness”

  1. George, some days I am denser/slower/sleepier/etc. than others, and I might have missed the instructions post, but I still have yet to ‘xactly figure out how to comment or read the comments. Maybe, like, 2 times (?) I’ve been able to find and read comments…I’ll probably keep trying, cause I’m slow like that sometimes.

  2. With the advancement in antiferromagnetic coding we seem to be closer to actuality of Michael Crichton’s, Prey. After all it has been a few years since “big blue” binary coded it’s name on the space of 12 atoms. There are developments going on at places like Harvard and MIT where they have developed a chemical computer brain. So How much longer until the “Lawnmower man” apears? Could be a while.

    Still our bodies are made of elements and what will happen when someone figures out how to code DNA at the molecular level by-passing gentic firewalls the keep us limited to the level of human coding we are born with. I do belive the triple helix 12 strand DNA could be completed in our future because tthough thr advancement antiferromagnetic a third string could be created. creating super humans. Fascinating stuff. One day in the future, (you may have to obtain permission first from the government) you could print your childeren on a 3 D prrinter.

    Reminds me of that old song, “in the year 2525, if man is still alive.”

    But what do I know, I’m just a truck driver. Ha ha ha ha!

  3. On the robotic revolution. We already are slaves to the machines. The question is will we adapt or perish? The human mind can only concentrate on one task at a time. Computers can perform millions of tasks per second. I have seen on t.v. a paralyzed person who could convey thoughts through a computer device to a screen and communicate. Another could use a computer device to make a ball float through the air using his mind to control it. The real question is who controls who? Are computers,machines and robots humoring us with control, the same way we think we control all our electronic gadgets. Or is this just softening us up before assuming total control? If you think our new masters will be benevolent,ask the American Indian. When robotics can think,reproduce,and repair themselves where will any human fit in? Maybe for grease!

    • “The human mind can only concentrate on one task at a time” I strogly disagree with that statement, please see the example my comment below. “Red and green” make big blue. I can process a thousand shades of contrast and colours simultaneously within the blink of an eye as for the song, well…ha ha ha! Like I said I’m no phd.

      Bwhahahahahhahaahaa! Just having fun.

      Have a good weekend george.

    • The Fed colour being “blue” for clarification. ;)

      Atlas Shrugged page 455.

      ” man’s motive power is his moral code.”

  4. The television show “Brain Games” on National Geographic channel question was “how many tasks can the human brain do at once,1,2,4?” The answer was 1. You know the television never lies. It just controls.

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