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Making machines our mimics is madness | CD Voice

Excuse me for a moment, if you will, while I indulge in a little thought experiment. Let's imagine a world in the not-too-distant future where the Turing test has finally been beaten. 

Man has become indistinguishable from machine, and the boundaries between what is real and virtual have all but crumbled away. Is this new world a brave one, which we should welcome with open arms? Or a terrifying prospect to be shunned? 

You might rightly say that we have no way of knowing, because no one can truly foresee what the future may hold. Yet two recent advances, announced within a day of each other last month, had me questioning just where our science is taking us. 

Both involved Google, that globe-spanning tech behemoth whose oft-quoted motto, "don't be evil", could yet prove to be wholly inappropriate.

Take the first of last month's ominous announcements, for instance: a "virtual assistant" whose synthesized voice apes human speech so precisely that your average Joe would never know he was speaking to a machine.

Unveiled at the search giant's annual developer's conference, this uncannily lifelike imitator is yet to be released to the general public. But in a demonstration, it was shown to have an entirely natural-sounding phone interaction with the employees of a hair salon and a restaurant. By making use of hesitations, affirmations and interjections, this robot successfully fooled its human counterparts into thinking that it was real. 

And as if that wasn't scary enough, the following day, Google showed off an upgrade to its "smart compose" feature that acts in a similar way to the predictive text function on your cellphone. Except that, instead of simply suggesting the next word, this artificial intelligence promises to predict fully fledged sentences, paragraphs and even whole emails.

Which is all well and good, but aside from the convenience, are such "advances" really desirable, or even necessary?

As the AI revolution takes us further into realms that were previously the preserve of science fiction, we would be wise to heed the warnings of the futurists and thinkers who make it their business to shine a light on the dark uncertainties of tomorrow that so many of us would rather not see.

What possible benefit, after all, could we derive from teaching machines to mimic us? To me, this seems like folly of the highest degree. And if such "services" are already capable of conning us into thinking they are conscious, what hope do we have of distinguishing them once the next big breakthrough is made?

Google is far from the only player in this AI arms race, either. In fact, according to Forbes, it's China that leads the world in patent applications for artificial intelligence.

So as we all rush headlong toward a future that we can barely imagine, might it be time to take our collective foot off the gas pedal and consider the consequences of our actions?

Because I fear no good can come from this line of human endeavor. And though that may be subjective, to be subjective is to be human.

We're fast leaving objectivity to the machines.



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