Protesters Warn SXSW Attendees: “I Say Robot, You Say No-Bot!”

By on March 16, 2015

On Saturday, March 14th, about two dozen protesters, most of them tech-savvy UT students wearing blue T-shirts and carrying homemade signs, crowded around the entrance to the Residence Inn and the Austin Downtown/Convention Center, on Fourth Street in Austin, Texas, to warn SXSW attendees — who are starting to arrive for this year’s film/tech/music conference — about the dangers of “A.I” — artificial intelligence. According to sources who were there, they chanted: “I say robot, you say no-bot!”

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Some of the signs read: “Stop the A.I. Threat” and “Humans Are The Future,” and (our favorite) “Enhance Life, Don’t Replace It!”

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According to Adam Mason, 23, who organized the protest, “This is is about morality in computing.”

Their expressed goal wasn’t to stop all robots and A.I. (which we’d prefer, frankly, can somebody get that goin’?), but to further spread the message of their leader, Tesla founder and gazillionaire Elon Musk, who wants us all to know that technology is important, but so are people! Musk now wants to make sure that technology doesn’t end up making mankind obsolete.

A few months ago a fearful Musk even helped to fund an organization, the Future of Life Institute (we know, that does sound made up, doesn’t it?) donating $10 million to help further the cause of “empowering humans, rather than replacing them.”

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“It’s all fun & games until someone loses an I” — we see what you did there, Musk!

“Here are all these leading AI researchers saying that AI safety is important”, Musk says in the press release. “I agree with them, so I’m today committing $10M to support research aimed at keeping AI beneficial for humanity.”

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Musk

An open letter drafted by the Future of Life Institute (FLI) and signed by leading scientific and industry figures, including Stephen Hawking, warns that companies and engineers must do more to ensure that “AI systems … do what we want them to do.”

The letter notes that 20 years of research into intelligent agents that “perceive and act in some environment” has produced concrete advances in fields including “speech recognition, image classification, autonomous vehicles, machine translation, legged locomotion, and question-answering systems.”

This, the letter states, has created a “virtuous cycle” in which the AI industry rewards even small improvements with “large sums of money,” encouraging even more investment:

“The potential benefits are huge, since everything that civilization has to offer is a product of human intelligence; we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools AI may provide, but the eradication of disease and poverty are not unfathomable. Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.”

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According to a story a few days ago, in USA TODAY,

Stephen Hawking and others have added to the proverbial wave of AI paranoia with dire predictions of its risk to humanity. The topic is an undercurrent in Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, a documentary about the fabled Apple co-founder. The paradoxical dynamic between people and tech products is a “double-edged sword,” said its Academy Award-winning director, Alex Gibney. “There are so many benefits — and yet we can descend into our smartphone.”

During an interview with CNBC, Musk chatted about how he isn’t much of an investor, besides in his own projects like SpaceX and SolarCity. But he’s also got some money in a company called Vicarious Artificial Intelligence — why?

“Mostly I sort of – it’s not from the standpoint of actually trying to make any investment return,” he explains. “It’s really, I like to just keep an eye on what’s going on with artificial intelligence. I think there is potentially a dangerous outcome there and we need to–”

Dangerous? Interupts a co-anchor. Oh yes, the fears in your heart are echoed by Musk. He’s no fool — he’s seen the movies.

“Potentially, yes. I mean, there have been movies about this, you know, like Terminator,” he explained.

In case you forgot, and need a reminder — and should we point out that the robot turns into a cop!! how prescient is that!! — here’s a trailer someone made for James Cameron’s  Terminator II: Judgment Day (1991):

The warnings have been coming all along, but humanity sure seems like they’ve been slow to react, and lately, there have even been signs that some are encouraging the interaction between robots and humans — like this walking six-speaker sound system, The Dance Party Robot, which was actually crowd-source funded by clueless individuals who apparently had no idea what they were doing. D’oh!

And now, we have to deal with things like this:

We’re probably don’t need to point out that Kraftwerk were way ahead of James Cameron with this video of their song, “The Robots,” which we see can now see was clearly a warning of the dire consequences of what happens when robots, full of energy and wearing matching red shirts, become so much a part of our life that they will eventually replace us. Oh, sure, they were saying that they were our slaves, our workers… but that’s not really the way it has panned out, has it? (Plus, the were singing those lines in some kind of robot gibberish, figuring we’d never figure it out anyway, but who knows what they were actually saying?)

We’re charging our battery
And now we’re full of energy
We are the robots

We’re functioning automatik
And we are dancing mechanik
We are the robots

Ja tvoi sluga (=I’m your slave)
Ja tvoi Rabotnik robotnik (=I’m your worker)

And, of course, it really goes back even further, to the early 1970s, when a young Michael Jackson who created a dance called The Robot, when he performed “Dancing Machine,” with his brothers — which you can see him perfecting here, in 1974, on “The Carol Burnett Show,” and, of course, he later worked it into his routine for “Billie Jean.” Jackson probably didn’t know at the time — he was a kid, really — that making robotic dance moves would actually encourage young people to begin to accept robots in their daily life. And just look what has happened since the early 70s!! How many of us have now lost our jobs to robots? Hmm??

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Keep up the good work, UT students, for the good of all humanity!!

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.