Burn-In: A Novel of the REAL Robotic Revolution

June 2020 No Comments

Speaker: Singer, P. W. (New America)
Date: 26 June 2020
Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted speaker session presented by Dr. P. W. Singer (New America) as a part of its SMA General Speaker Series. Dr. Singer first stated that the advancement of robotics and AI technology has been rapid over the past 10+ years. He explained that in 2009, the US military had zero ground systems and only a handful of (unarmed) drones. The US military now has over 22,000 of these unmanned systems, and US allies and adversaries have them as well. This has raised questions of what nations can do with AI technology and what it means for where and when nations can go to war. The way in which people conceptualize these systems has also changed over the past decade; we have very recently moved away from characterizing systems by what they are not as opposed to what they are. The importance of what runs a technology has increased in importance over its physical form, and a shift in human role has occurred as well. Dr. Singer then stated that AI has disrupted everything, from finance to medicine, and we are only witnessing the beginning of this disruption. Research into AI technologies is being funded heavily by a diverse array of actors, from nations to major universities to businesses. This disruption has been magnified by COVID-19, which has drastically accelerated trends towards increased use of autonomous systems such as telemedicine and AI surveillance. Next, Dr. Singer stated that the Second Machine Age will pose a new series of deep, tough questions to answer, namely: 1) What will be the impacts of automation on the economy and everything that draws from it?; 2) What new legal, ethical issues will we face with the development of new technology?; and 3) What new security questions will arise? He further explained that every area of life will be affected by this new Industrial Revolution. The past Industrial Revolution determined new economic winners and losers and spawned a variety of different ripple effects, including politics, women’s and children’s rights, worker’s rights, fascism, and communism. Furthermore, the Second Machine Age will bring about two types of questions that humans have never encountered before: questions of machine permissibility and machine accountability. Humans must determine who owns AI technology and what it produces, as well as who takes responsibility and has accountability for it. Dr. Singer spoke about the panopticon created by the vast amount of data that AI technology collects and what it can do with that data, using facial recognition technology as an example. He then stated that not enough attention is being paid to the problems that AI presents because people often think that the AI revolution is far away. Furthermore, people tend to think about AI within a stovepipe manner and in a fictional way that is not helpful in resolving these problems. To conclude, Dr. Singer explained that his new book, Burn-In, is a key output from a program called AI Visualized. The techno-thriller explores the issues he presented in this talk in a new way—by presenting them in the form of a novel/non-fiction hybrid. He also suggested that this format could be used to explore other issues in the future.

Speaker Session Recording


View Dr. Singer’s Biography