More Human Than Human

THIS whole Tay thing got me thinking.


What if things had gone a bit further before Microsoft pulled the plug? I mean, what if Tay had had a little more time to go from being an offensive racist shitbot, to actually managing to break the law? What I mean is: What if “she” had said something that, had it been spouted forth from a living, mouth-breathing human, would have been deemed hate-speech? What if she’d actually been manipulated into making slanderous attacks against an individual?

Right there is a question: could an AI tweetbot actually do something illegal? It’s not human, after all, so is it subject to human laws?

Ok, ok. It’s not that important, I hear you say. Just a bit of fun, or one of those wrinkles that’s bound to come up when you’re screwing around at the bleeding edge of technology.

But, I happen to think it is important, and it’ll get to be more important as time goes on. See, one of the things I picked up while reading about this whole business is that some companies are already using AI bots hooked up to social media, for marketing purposes. Whatever that means. I guess they watch Twitter for mentions of their brand or products or maybe their competitors’ brands and products, and then jump into the conversation with a sales pitch. And I imagine that the AIs involved are probably a bit limited as to what they’ll talk about, since their artificial worlds revolve around their specific brands and products.

But as time goes on, the AIs will get better at pretending to be human. I see a day coming—sooner than most of us would think, I’m betting—when there’ll be AIs engaging with real people on social media, and we won’t be able to tell that they’re robots. (Here’s a question: how many people, possibly seeing some of Tay’s tweets but not knowing what Tay is, thought Tay was flesh and blood?) So, what happens then, when one of these bots gets a bit out of whack on a Friday afternoon, and gets fooled into making verbal attacks against some minority group? And what happens if that leads to some brain-deficient group taking the AI’s crap and turning it into a call to action? What happens if someone gets hurt because of it?

Here’s another question: What happens if someone takes an off-the-shelf AI and deliberately sets it up with an agenda, to create a racist/homophobic/misogynist/anti-minority douchebot? (And yes, I really think off-the-shelf AIs are coming, just like the generic game engines that some assholes have used to create offensive games pushing neo-Fascist messages. Remember those?)

It’s a bit like someone letting their dog off the leash in a crowd; the dog gets confused, and bites someone. The owner gets the blame, gets fined, and maybe the dog is destroyed.

And that last example is like someone deliberately letting a zombie loose in a crowd, with the intention of turning some of that crowd into more zombies.


I think that’s enough for a Sunday morning.

Happy Easter.

Have a nice day.

Until next time, gentle reader . . .

My Dad

John Ford 1950's

Dad in the RAF; with a dismantled Gloster Meteor

THAT’S dad in that picture. It would have been taken around 1953, give or take, at an airfield somewhere in the Midlands. He was doing his mandatory National Service; they’d allowed him to defer by a year or two so that he could finish his apprenticeship as a toolmaker.

That’s what dad was—an engineer, and a mechanic, and he was interested enough in electronics that he took a course so that he could be a TV engineer and repairman. And of course he was a lot more than that. He was quiet, which is probably where I get that from. I rarely saw him angry, and he never stayed angry for long. He was a gentleman. One time, he fell from a ladder onto a fence. Took the skin right off his side, from what I was told—and yet he wouldn’t think of going to the hospital until he’d cleaned up and put fresh clothes on.

Some things that stand out in my memory:

  • Me and my brother riding in the sidecar of his old motorbike, on our way to Sutton Park to picnic and fly kites.
  • The look on his face as he drove the brand new, aqua blue, Ford Cortina he’d just picked up, onto the driveway of our house in Tamworth. It was the first new car he’d owned, and I still remember the registration number (VRE 294C).
  • Arriving home from school one day to find him sitting in an armchair, grinning like a goon. He was waiting to see how long it took for me to realise we had a new family member—a skittish Alsatian puppy. She was hiding behind the sofa.
  • A hot summer on school holiday where I’d go to work with him; the factory where he’d worked had shut down so he’d taken a temporary job as a delivery driver for a bakery, and we’d drive from Margate halfway to Dover dropping off trays of bread and cakes at little village shops. Happy times.
  • The time he and mom went to a party at his workmate Eric’s house down the street. Eric’s wife Anita had been dishing out the alcohol in some style. Mom told me that when they got home, dad had sat outside on the steps by the back door, giggling and saying over and over how he’d only had three drinks BUT THEY WERE BLOODY BIG ONES.
  • So much more… I could fill pages.

He got cancer a couple of years ago. Not a bad kind of cancer, thank goodness; it was treatable with chemotherapy and he had a friend who’d had the exact same thing and got through it.

On February 17—three and a half weeks ago, as I write this—he went to the hospital for a routine CT scan to check progress. When he got home, around lunchtime, he took a cup of tea through to the living room. When mom followed from the kitchen a couple of minutes later, she found him collapsed on the chair. She called 999, and the woman on the phone told her how to do CPR until a paramedic arrived. The paramedic, as it happened, was in the car park at the hospital at the time, and was at mom’s side within five minutes, followed shortly afterward by an ambulance crew. They worked on dad for almost an hour, trying to bring him back. But he was gone.

Not cancer. He’d had an undetected heart condition, and basically it just stopped. He was eighty-one.

After the fact, my brother and I found out something we’d never known, about dad’s time in the RAF: he didn’t just dismantle decommissioned planes. He’d also been an accident investigator, visiting crash sites and figuring out what had gone wrong, in the days before black boxes. It’s fascinating, and wish I could ask dad more about that.

Mom sent me an official copy of the death certificate; we thought we’d need it so that we could get our passports renewed in a hurry, and get over to the UK. That plan went sideways, though, because of a bunch of hurdles and roadblocks thrown up by the British consulate. We’ll get over there when we can, but that’s not happening until we both get new passports, which is likely to be another few weeks. In the meantime the (now unneeded) death certificate is still in the envelope it arrived in. I can’t bring myself to open it. I was trying to focus on the story I’ve been working on, but until about a week ago I couldn’t do anything on it; my thoughts kept coming around to dad, and worrying about mom. This blog post is the first actual writing I’ve been able to do, and it’s still hard. Honestly, I’m writing this more as therapy for myself than for anyone else.

I miss my dad. We talked on Google Hangouts most Saturdays, and the last couple of weekends I forgot he wouldn’t be on. I’ve had some bad dreams, but those seem to have passed. More than anything else right now, I want our passports to arrive so we can go and stay with mom a while.

I can’t write any more, at least not just yet.