Why worry about climate change? The robots won’t mind the heat …

This model, XKZ47, is assembled in a fully automated and completely autonomous robot factory.  It requires no human workers.

This model, XKZ47, is assembled in a fully automated and intelligent robot factory. It requires no human workers.

Follow the money.  That advice, immortalized in All the President’s Men, can help unravel the baroque ambiguities of public policy decisions and corporate strategy.  Maybe that’s a good way to predict those interest groups that will be most vocal about allowing industry to develop Artificial Intelligence (AI) without regulation or oversight.  The arguments (“there’s nothing to worry about,” etc.) will be very similar to those we’ve been hearing for years about how climate change is an imaginary problem.  It may turn out that it will even be a lot of the same voices telling us that AI is benign.  Some major players stand to gain a great deal by an unfettered program to advance research in AI and big data analytics.

Military robotics is a growth industry.  This category includes the manufacture of drones and other unmanned vehicles and, increasingly the control systems that allow those systems to be relatively autonomous.  Nation-states and the huge multi-national corporations that work for them as defense contractors do not want to be left behind in the aggressive arms-race to ensure dominance in the production of autonomous killing machines.

Some of these same interests are among the forces attempting to block all efforts to defend ourselves from the looming climate-change catastrophe.  My hypothesis here is speculative; nevertheless, it seems to be worth asking some questions along these line.  Especially because there are huge amounts of money in play.

Elsewhere in Artificial Times, I argue that we are approaching a convergence zone of artificial technologies, where the four major trends in contemporary IT become a single combined, global artificial reality.  How does this trajectory connect with climate change?  How do these two categories of risk (climate-change and artificial reality) interact?

Initially, I compared the relative magnitudes and urgency of the two categories.  More recently, I’ve been wondering how the two simultaneous and parallel sets of trends might impact each other.

In our robot-populated future, many robot-owners will be able to deploy robots to accomplish tasks that would be either difficult or impossible for humans.  Some of the obstacles for human actors will be environmental. For instance, robots could work well in sub-zero temperatures or in extreme heat (assuming they have adequate on-board air-conditioning, cooling fans, and water-cooled heat sinks, to keep their processors cool and efficient).

Some of the other obstacles will probably be psychological or ethical concerns that could interfere with humans carrying out unsavory assignments, especially if they are egregiously inhumane.  Nation states and private corporations have a strong financial incentive to build military robots that have no such scruples.  It may soon be very unprofitable to build killing machines that are hesitant about eliminating their adversaries.

How useful! The robots will be just fine doing all that dirty work, in temperatures and/or toxic environments that would kill mere humans.

It may be worth asking whether human priorities regarding environmental issues (such as the ability to sustain human life) would be economically justifiable from the viewpoint of the algorithms responsible for building and selling the XKZ47 (pictured above).  The corporations that own the algorithms exist for the purpose of creating profit for the shareholders.

Most of the shareholders don’t know anything about the ongoing activities of the corporations they own.  The ultra-wealthy individuals who own controlling interests in giant military-industrial corporations are often the same individuals who control the major petro-chemical giants, some of whom are spending a great deal of money to prevent serious public policy action to impede climate change.

Oh … another benefit of robots: they don’t need oxygen.


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