Kids! Don’t Try This at Home! Robot Destroys Mankind

From the Forbin Project, to HAL 9000, to War Games, movies are replete with smart computers that decide to put humans in their place. If you study literature, you’ll find that science fiction isn’t usually about the future, it is about the present disguised as the future, and smart computers usually represent something like robots taking your job, or nuclear weapons destroying your town.

Lately, I’ve been seeing something disturbing, though. [Elon Musk], [Bill Gates], [Steve Wozniak], and [Stephen Hawking] have all gone on record warning us that artificial intelligence is dangerous. I’ll grant you, all of those people must be smarter than I am. I’ll even stipulate that my knowledge of AI techniques is a little behind the times. But, what? Unless I’ve been asleep at the keyboard for too long, we are nowhere near having the kind of AI that any reasonable person would worry about being actually dangerous in the ways they are imagining.

Smart Guys Posturing

Keep in mind, I’m interpreting their comments as saying (essentially): “Soon machines will think and then they will out-think us and be impossible to control.” It is easy to imagine something like a complex AI making a bad decision while driving a car or an airplane, sure. But the computer that parallel parks your car isn’t going to suddenly take over your neighborhood and put brain implants in your dogs and cats. Anyone who thinks that is simply not thinking about how these things work. The current state of computer programming makes that as likely as saying, “Perhaps my car will start flying and we can go to Paris.” Ain’t happening.

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Woz’s watch makes air travelers nervous

[Steve Wozniak], Last of the freelance hackers and Greatest swordfighter in the world, lives a hacker life you couldn’t even dream about. The folks over at medGadget ran into him and learned about his watch. In their interview (embedded after the break) [Steve] shows off the Nixie tube wristwatch that we can only assume he created himself.

The watch consists of two tiny tubes, a PCB, and battery. There must be an accelerometer in there because the display is switched off unless the watch is held at a certain configurable angle. Once held in the correct position the display flashes the hours, then the minutes.

The time is set by two buttons inside the watch’s case. [Steve] goes on to explain the trepidation his fellow passengers have when he disassembles the watch mid-flight and starts to monkey around with the buttons inside. Not to be stopped at electronic tomfoolery, he also shares his delight in sneaking ceramic knives on board so that he can properly cut his steaks.

Lifestyle aside, the small Nixie clock packages we’ve seen don’t even come close to this. We assume this is pretty hard on the battery and wonder if the watch gets hot if you’re stuck in a long meeting and constantly looking at the time. We can get over both of those limitations just for the cool factor alone.

Update: Reader [Stephen] left a comment pointing to the origin ofย  the watch. It is controlled by a PIC microprocessor, boasts a four-month battery life at 50 viewings per day, and there’s some code available.ย  It is for sale but currently out of stock.

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