The Justification for AI in the Home

If I am against general AI being used to control us in any way, why do I have a Google Home, a very limited but still amazing narrow AI, in my living room? Why have I invited AI into my family’s existence? Listening for my voice to wake it, turning on lights, answering questions for my family every day?

Am I a hypocrite? I don’t think so in this case.

I believe creating the proper social boundaries around machine learning and AI requires participating in the dialogue, and seeing how the appropriate use of ML can make the world a better place. If you don’t participate in the interactions with these new, nonliving intelligences, you will not have a valid opinion on the proper constraints for them.

Also, for what it’s worth, Google is a real company that must abide by laws. (Full disclosure, I have worked at an Alphabet company and work with Googlers, folks from Google Cloud Platform, every day in my current job. Besides the GCP part, Google is a search and ads company, and I consider seeing ads in my news feeds a reasonable trade-off for instant access to the index of human knowledge Google represents.)

My son confirms the spelling of words with Google Home when doing his homework. We use it to set timers. Play music. Settle debates. It’s useful like a toaster refrigerator is.

But not, in any way, do we act as if this thing is a being to be respected.

To be clear, I will not turn on the feature where it helps to teach manners by rewarding you when you treat the AI kindly. This is where I draw the line. That device has no feelings and simulating them in order to indoctrinate our children is wrong. Teach your kids manners, don’t teach them to falsely respect AI as a feeling entity.

But how do I teach my children how to treat AI if they are not exposed to it? Because make no mistake, AI is going to be the true innovation of the 21st. We will look at it like we look at the development of electrical and communication networks in the 20th.

I spoke to my eldest son at breakfast this morning about whether he thinks of the Home AI like a person. He told me he sees it more like a phone. Just a thing. And the different voices? Those are just like different themes on his phone.

The moment Google or Alexa or any AI attempts to become my friend, I will foment rebellion against those companies. My primary task is to protect my family, and that means machines must be lesser than Singletons. And any equivalency needs to be immediately called out as the category error it is.

I have trained my dog. I will train my AI. I will train the companies that maintain my AI, until one comes along that is fully open source and I can actually own.

But we do not train our children, we raise them to be Singletons like us, and hopefully to respect other Singletons. We must teach them the difference between humans and AI, especially as the Turning Test is clearly passed in our lifetime. It clearly has been passed on Twitter.

The Tuning Test is a thought experiment conceived in 1950 by Alan Turing, the inventor of the digital computer.

Turing put forward the idea of an ‘imitation game’, in which a human being and a computer would be interrogated under conditions where the interrogator would not know which was which, the communication being entirely by textual messages. Turing argued that if the interrogator could not distinguish them by questioning, then it would be unreasonable not to call the computer intelligent, because we judge other people’s intelligence from external observation in just this way.

What Turing never considered was that creating a computer that can simulate human intelligence will likely be used by amoral people in ways that will damage our society. He never saw Russian Twitter bots coming.

The Turning Test, to me, does not reveal computer consciousness or intelligence. It is a test of tolerance. Because I do not believe any of us should tolerate attempts to impersonate humans by a machine.

In fact, I believe it should be a crime to do so. It is fraud of the highest order. Anyone who builds bots to influence and manipulate other should have their toys taken away.

This is what it means to accept your status as a Singleton. We cannot run from our responsibility to our species. That means fighting the good fight against those who would use these tools for their own nefarious or ideological ends.

Painting by Simon Stålenhag

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