"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 30 May 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Machine to the Slave



Now that Deep Blue stands

triumphant over the mutilated

corpses of both Garry Kasparov

and the human ego, it's time for

big-muscle computing to get down

to serious business. While

frontal-lobe apologists spin and

issue caveats, venture

capitalists and their pet nerds

have endless opportunity to

harness that raw silicon might,

and the current public interest,

into something that the

non-chess-playing masses can

actually appreciate. Like, say,

personal slaves.


Or agents - whatever. The concept

is the same. Spooky little wads

of software that scurry off to

do your unquestioned whim are

the next logical step for the AI

mavens, and while their Next Big

Thing may have fallen under the

hype wagon that push media is

currently driving, the eventual

and inevitable reemergence of

the technology is just a

Microsoft buy-out away.



What's kept agents from

fulfilling their potential as

consumerist piss boys has been

the fact that they're dumb as

bricks. Limited in scope - to

music or URLs or sex - they

offer little actual relief from

the tedious drudgery that is

getting along in the

postdiluvian world. When NewBot,

"the intelligent search agent,"

delivers a USA Today story on

NBC's fall schedule as the

result of a search for

"terrorism," you know that the

boys in the lab have under- (or

over-) shot the literalist mark.

The first piece of software that

you can wave your hand at and

say, "Find me tires" will take

the market by storm.


The culmination of hundreds of

years of fantasy and science -

let's leave morality out of this -

into a true artificial

intelligence might seem

slightly, um, debased by its

immediate and total application

to the conquest of time spent at

Sears, but that is the avenue by

which it will most likely tromp

headlong into our lives.


Makes you edgy, doesn't it? The

fear of a Blue planet, of

intelligent, self-willed

technology, runs long and deep

in our society - from golems to

HAL - and Kasparov's

head-in-hands stomping by an

enormous, sleek box didn't do

anything to alleviate those

concerns. And while Deep Blue

used only brute force

look-aheads to play it's game -

not artificial intelligence -

Kasparov's defeat has prompted

yet another round of the panicky

second-guessing that follows any

scientific milestone. Should

this research continue? What are

the dangers? Is it right for a

machine to be smarter than a




Yadda, yadda, yadda. Most

cultural taboos take generations

to break, and the flurry of

articles about the looming

obsolescence of man is simply

the dying whimper of this one.

For every decade-old complaint

about having to talk to a phone

machine, there's a person

merrily typing his

word-processing questions to a

paper clip with eyes. Though

they're hardly intelligent, the

spawn of Bob stuffed into every

nook of Office have opened the

door to much larger things.

Little more than a pretty face,

these perky graphics are

desensitizing vast packs of

computer users to how creepy it

is to have the machine know more

than you do. Once you're used to

a computer correcting that "hte"

to "the," you're ready for

something with more muscle.


And now the muscle is ready for

you, whether you realize you

want it or not. The dream of the

American consumer is the death

of comparison shopping - to

never have to wheedle a price

out of some pimply-faced clerk

on the phone ever, ever again.

While the general population is

more than happy to oppose

something that it has no special

interest in - cloning, for

instance, or chess - offer it

the chance to spend a Sunday

afternoon in front of the tube

instead of out at Jeb's Auto

Palace and folks'll line up in

the rain.



The only reason people claim to

fear artificial intelligence is

because it presents a facade

that isn't just ugly, but

inscrutable. As soon as we can

make it look human, or even

halfway human, as soon as we

can make it look like Pamela

Anderson Lee and make it match

socks ... well, whose

intelligence is artificial now?

The elimination of unpleasant

tedium is the door through which

artificial intelligence - cute,

animated, friendly,

anthropomorphized artificial

intelligence - is going to enter

our lives. While some tiny,

reptilian portion of our brains

may rail against the notion of

an intelligent machine, a

larger, mammalian portion of our

ass will be happy to wait on the

sofa, eating pretzels.


Their move.

courtesy of An Entirely Other Greg

Fish Image
The Fish

[Netscape Inbox Direct]

Barrel Image

The Barrel
[Predictions by Suck]

Gun Image
The Gun

net.moguls Link
Other Work By
An Enirely Other Greg
Fresh Fish