Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pointless Philosophical Speculation

Scanning the future- "come in please"

"Researchers studying robotics said that the Robo-rights document, published in December and sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry, amounted to pointless philosophical speculation founded on poor science.

While there are important questions to be asked about the direction of robot technology, these have been obscured by considering “robot rights” that no scientists take seriously, the experts said."

Now we all know the £6.5bn pa DTI is a monster of waste, reportedly heading for dismemberment under Gordo (see this blog and this vid). But even by their abysmal standards, Robo-rights always seemed especially crackpot. As Noel Sharkey, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Sheffield, says:

“The idea of machine consciousness is a bit of a fairytale. I’m not certain it won’t happen, in the same way as when I was seven I wasn’t certain about Santa Claus not existing, but I was fairly sure.

We need a proper debate about the safety of the robots that will come on to the market in the next few years. Military use of robots is increasing fast. What we should really be bothered about is public safety.”

Robo-rights is one of more than 200 reports commissioned by Sir David King, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, from Outsights, a management consultancy, and Ipsos MORI, the pollsters. It all takes place under the DTI's grandly styled OSI Horizon Scanning Centre (a "Centre of Excellence in Horizon Scanning").

Now, I don't mind them playing Isaac Asimov if they want to.

But wtf should I pay for it?

At least when IBM Chairman Tom Watson (pic above) famously predicted that "there is a world market for about five computers", it wasn't on taxpayers' time.

PS It's disappointing when you discover that it may not have been Watson who came up with that prediction at all, but a Cambridge Maths Prof. It's like that "billion here and a billion there" quote which was attributed to US Senator Dirkson, but actually seems to have been a misquote. Dirkson (reportedly) admitted: "Oh, I never said that. A newspaper fella misquoted me once, and I thought it sounded so good that I never bothered to deny it."

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