“If everything is important, then nothing is.”
“If everything is important, then nothing is.”
One of the core skills we have as humans is the ability to recognise and recognise things that we see. The ability for robots to do this has advanced significantly in recent year as the TED Talk by Joseph Redmon demonstrates:
As robots continue to gain skills a number of people are advocating that the United Nations should ban robots that kill:
Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.
We therefore implore the High Contracting Parties to find a way to protect us all from these dangers.
We have a log history of weaponising technology advances, perhaps even as long as human history. Once you remove humans from the field of war the moral needs change significantly. What’s to stop an ever escalating conflict when there is limited moral need to stop?
If warring robots is a scary thought, how about dancing ones. Guinness world records recently published this video of dancing Dobi robots, 1069 in all:
Personally I think that this is quite scary.
Over 8 years ago I wrote a piece entitled I could spend hours doing this… which outlined 14 steps to fritter away a few unproductive hours in the day. There’s been a lot of technical change since then, so I figured it was time to provide an updated guide.
The range of options have exploded, so where to start?
Have I missed anything?
Sometimes it’s the simplest things that are the most fascinating when slowed down, that’s certainly true when the Slow Mo Guys start to play with a Chinese Spouting Bowl, also known as a Singing Bowl.
Being able to see sound vibrations and the resulting resonance is fabulous, especially when you see that the bowl you thought was quite still is moving quite a bit:
Despite all I have seen and experienced, I still get the same simple thrill out of glimpsing a tiny patch of snow in a high mountain gully and feel the same urge to climb towards it.
To travel, to experience and learn: that is to live.
The ascent of Everest was not the work of one day, nor even of those few unforgettable weeks in which we climbed… It is, in fact, a tale of sustained and tenacious endeavour by many, over a long period of time.
Sir John Hunt
Thank goodness. Now we can get on with some proper climbing.
History has a way of picking heroes and of either building them up, or pushing them down, they tend to stand and fall as individuals. The two names I knew from the ascent of Everest were Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tenzing (Tenzing Norgay). These two individuals did a remarkable thing, they were the first people to stand on top of the world but I knew little about the events that got them there.
My schoolboy knowledge of the events of 1953 had overlooked the tremendous efforts of John Hunt, the leader of the expedition. John Hunt was just as famous as the Tenzing and Hilary at the time but I was born 15 years after 1953 and he no longer featured in the story I was told.
Names like Charles Evans, Tom Bourdillon, Griffith Pugh, George Band, George Lowe, Michael Westmacott and all the others were just as unknown by me, until now. The larger than life character of Eric Shipton was also a new one to me. Yet, each of these individuals played a significant part in the events that lead to two people standing higher than anyone else had ever stood.
The world has changed a huge amount since 1953, something that this book makes evident as a parallel story to the main event. We are so used to world where a couple of hundred people climb to the summit each year in organised groups that include everyday people. We are used to people flying into Nepal and travelling around by helicopter. We are used to modern breathing apparatus and mountain equipment making these endeavours reasonably safe. We expect communications to be instantaneous.
It wasn’t anything like that in 1953.
The journey to the roof of the world took an expedition with military planning and relied mostly on manpower to get the ten thousand pounds of equipment in place. Even with extensive planning the ultimate ascent relied on “tenacious endeavours” to overcome the unforeseen challenges, freak events, illness and unique weather conditions. In almost every situation the margin for error was tiny, a single decision made by Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans was the difference between their names being the ones written into the history books and those of Tenzing and Hilary.
Everest 1953: The Epic Story of the First Ascent by Mick Conefrey is a wonderful telling of the events and characters that accomplished this tremendous feat. I really enjoyed it’s wonderful story telling and engaging details but most of all I was struck by people’s ability to keep going when there’s a goal that they need to achieve.
The book also describes the events following the ascent which serves as a warning about the two sides of fame. Success did not lead to happiness for everyone involved.
Disclaimer: I didn’t read this book, I listened to it on Audible.
Some of the people closest to the ongoing robotic revolution have looked and decided that it’s time to have another alternative.
Until a couple of years ago, Antonio Garcia Martinez was living the dream life: a tech-start up guy in Silicon Valley, surrounded by hip young millionaires and open plan offices.
He’d sold his online ad company to Twitter for a small fortune, and was working as a senior exec at Facebook (an experience he wrote up in his best-selling book, Chaos Monkeys). But at some point in 2015, he looked into the not-too-distant future and saw a very bleak world, one that was nothing like the polished utopia of connectivity and total information promised by his colleagues.
“I’ve seen what’s coming,” he told me when I visited him recently for BBC Two’s Secrets of Silicon Valley. “And it’s a big self-driving truck that’s about to run over this economy.”
Most of the reported opinions on the future represent our future as if we are at a fork in the road with one way leading to a future Utopia and the other leading to a Dystopia. I’m sure that there are plenty of opinions that are somewhere in the middle but they tend not to get to much air time probably because it’s not very good copy.
A middle road is the most likely outcome with part of Utopia mixed with parts of Dystopia. I’m currently listening to a long book on the history of England and one of the things I’m learning from it is that good times and bad times generally live together side-by-side.
One area that has already seen significant automation is air travel. The pilot may be ultimately in charge but the systems available to them make them mostly redundant for most of the journey. yet, there is something settling about knowing that there is a human at the front making sure everything is going well. How would you feel about travelling a plane without a pilot?
UBS analysts expect the effort to familiarize the public with commercial self-piloting crafts will begin at that 2025 target date with autonomous cargo planes, which could demonstrate how the systems can safely fly from point A to B without a hitch. A next step could be to remove pilots gradually, shifting from a two-person cockpit to one person monitoring the system before phasing out humans entirely.
2025 isn’t very far away, and that’s the estimate for a start. i expect the transition period to be long.
I usually choose short interesting videos, this one isn’t one of them, it’s 10 hours of mountain video with sound from Planet Earth II including green meadows, forests, snow capped peaks, hummingbirds and bees.
There’s an interesting reason for the BBC doing this and that’s it’s Real Happiness Project which has been built following a study which suggests that watching nature programmes, specifically Planet Earth II, is good for your happiness:
The study found a range of significant results evidencing not only that watching content from Planet Earth II inspired significant increases in feelings of awe, contentedness, joy, amusement and curiosity, but that it also acted to reduce feelings of tiredness, anger and stress. In the majority of cases, changes in emotions were caused by the type of content viewed, and significantly different from the control group. Our findings therefore support the conclusion that viewing Planet Earth II inspires positive changes in emotions that are distinct to the natural history genre.