Human life form versus silicon-based life form: can humans stay in control of computers?

AuthorHudson, Jeff

Stories often tend to be perceived as more interesting than facts - but what if reality is, in fact, catching up with fiction at far greater speed than thought possible? With silicon-based life forms (computer technology) soon set to outnumber the number of people on the planet it is up to us to put measures into place now to ensure carbon and silicon can coexist safely in a changing world.

In a certain sense, life has been following this well-worn plot for decades. We invented silicon-based helpers to crunch our numbers and increase our productivity, and they have bound us with soft shackles of convenience and a sense of connectedness. And although we can't call it war, we are engaged in a battle for control over our helpers, lest they suddenly stop working--or worse, start working for someone else.

The Changing Pace of Evolution

Our romance with silicone-based life forms began in 1947 with the transistor. It would have been difficult in the beginning to imagine this useful device as a life form, but in some ways, that's what it became. In 65 short years, the humble transistor evolved into an artificial life form called Watson, a computer system that recognizes natural language and, in 2011, handily defeated two former champions on the TV quiz show Jeopardy. In contrast, it took carbon-based life forms (us) four billion years to evolve from the humble amoeba to a species capable of imagining and creating Watson.

Silicon-based life forms now make short work of tasks that once took us many man hours to accomplish. In addition to carrying crushing computational loads without complaint, they deliver our communications at the speed of light, transact business on our behalf and help us more efficiently perform the tasks we still perform. We think a lot about the way we interact with them. Few of us, however, think about how silicone-based life forms interact with one another.

The Social Evolution of Man and Machine

Because we invented silicone-based life forms, it's not surprising that their "social" interactions evolved much like our own. In the distant past, we developed ways to identify members of our own tribes--people we could trust with our secrets (we couldn't let just anyone know where we kept our food and spear points). As our social structures grew more complex, we developed more elaborate ways to identify members of our tribes--such as manners of speech, clothing, body piercings, ID cards and so forth. Similarly, we taught our...

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