TOOLS, TECHNOLOGY, STEM, ROBOTS and “Artificial Intelligence”
FROM STICKS AND STONES, TO SMART PROBLEM SOLVING AND AUTOMATION
(DOCUMENT EDITING IN PROGRESS….)
These times, day-by-day, humanity experiences increasingly extraordinary, fast-paced developments and dramatic progress of all kinds. We discover new situations, problems, identify needs, create new ones, and then imagine, create, take advantage of opportunities, old and new ways and means for their resolution. As a consequence, the availability and use of creative new tools and technologies can uncover, generate all kinds of new, exciting, and often unexpected virtues, benefits and dangers.
As expected, claims about new technologies are usually welcome news, but at times some can be exaggerated and/or misleading, simply because using anything new or old, anywhere, anytime, can be made to be either BENEFICIAL or DETRIMENTAL. Take the simple example of clean, pristine and pure water. Water can be used to create, protect and nourish life or (mis)used to destroy life through asphyxiation or by blunt physical impact. Similarly, some highly complex “inter-continental nuclear missile” systems and technologies can be designed and used to target, burn and destroy infrastructure, take millions of lives and the planet itself during a worldwide violent conflict, or otherwise, deployed and used to detect, target, Impact to deflect or destroy celestial objects that can be a source of dangerous massive, calamitous collisions with and damage to earth and human life.
Also, and similarly as in past disasters, today we hear about the worrisome damage and catastrophe caused by the buildup of “greenhouse gases” disrupting earth’s atmosphere, ecology and climate. In the past mostly caused by volcanic or natural events, today we have concerns about the buildup of waste and pollution created by materials discarded through undesirable, unchecked human activities. Similarly pervasive and destructive impact to individuals and communities today can be caused by uncontrolled dissemination, misuse and abuse of the massive personal, commercial, industrial, and socio-economic information in our widely used, critical digital telecommunications, media and Internet platforms.
The beneficial or harmful effects of all kinds of tools, both simple (i.e. sticks and stones, fire) and complex (i.e. small and large electromagnetic, analog and digital devices, supercomputers and “giga-factories,”) are essential: because they are the result of necessary products, “helpful” things, physical objects and ideas intended to help us understand, work with and take good advantage of our environment. Tools are what has made, and continue to make us humans successful: to survive and thrive with and against good and bad environments and situations. We survive, live and secure our living because of the tools we create and how we use them.
Recently, a new, increasingly powerful type of tools from the area of digital technology have been made possible and are referred to as “AI” or Artificial Intelligence. These enhanced information analysis and decision-making tools create new, powerful abilities for non-human, non-living, physical devices and systems to analyze, understand, and possibly substitute the coherence of human sense, judgment, intelligence and independence with self-operating tools (independent, automated devices,) to then execute actions normally expected from, and perhaps beyond the control of other humans. This creates specific worries about AI with possibilities of loosing control of critical parts of the environment: allowing rogue devices, machines and people involved, to become inappropriately enabled and entitled: “things” that can become independent (autonomous,) to conceivably execute unproductive, destructive, dangerous, and human-threatening.
Similar concerns and situations have risen at other moments throughout history: Over a century ago there were warnings about the threat of “horse-less carriages,” evil robots and machines that could replace and eliminate humans and/or the need for their presence, at work and elsewhere. Powerful, out-of-control, rogue artifacts and computers, massively destructive “atomic power,” harmful and pernicious “electromagnetic radiation” in the air, dangerous “cybernetic creatures” and “evil virtual-embedded reality weapons.” Today we are indeed suffering tools and complex systems capable of violating the privacy, safety and well-being of individuals, groups and societies.
In today’s “information age,” we do know that poorly understood, innovative tools of technology can and do influence peoples lives, affect and destroy the well-being and freedoms of people and communities through invasive physical interference or uncontrolled, misuse of information. Things like “big brother watching” surveillance, “Dark Web” information collection, mining and misinformation, wide-coverage “satellite communication networks” can assist war and global damage as feared in the ideas of “guaranteed mutual destruction” and terrorism enabled in the past through public communication and the media. A few decades ago, even a short, simple radio broadcast (Orson Wells - War of the Worlds, October, 1938) was able to provoke larger scale panic and chaos among an otherwise peaceful and quiet population. Poor understanding and manipulation of sectors of our massive information infrastructures can become instruments of social impact to either promote productive understandings and progress, or instigate misunderstandings and fears that provoke failures and disasters.
Indeed, there is no doubt that anything can be used effectively to do good or evil, jut like water can nourish or otherwise, suffocate and kill, tools can as well. Tools can be used to provide good help, or inflict intended or unintended damage and destruction. Automation, being used as unassisted help, likewise can help productivity and the quality of the goods people produce, or negate well-being for at least some of the population by replacing helpful human labor.
So, let’s look at all of this through basic meaning of the words “tools” and “technology.”
WHAT ARE TOOLS AND WHAT IS TECHNOLOGY?
For most of us in daily life, the word "tools" reminds us of the useful objects and devices we keep in a "toolbox" at home or at work to help us discover and fix practical problems.
In general, however, the word refers to (e.g. Wikipedia 2017) "any item that can be used to achieve a goal.” The Oxford Dictionaries and the Cambridge On-line dictionary (ref) define a tool as: "A thing used to help perform a job," or "anything that helps you to do something you want to do". ...
Stated in an extended way: a tool is something we use to help us do the things we need snd want to do to stay alive and live better. We do this by using and extending the capabilities of our own bodies to explore, think and change our environment in smarter, more effective (cheaper, faster, safer, and/or more powerful) ways.
Therefore, we can say that virtually every man-made object, a hammer, a spoon, a fork, a knife, as well as computers, telephones and their applications are all tools. Also the clothes we wear, our homes and the vehicles we use to move around: Tools are all the objects and their uses that help us understand, imagine and deal with the environment to stay alive, protect us. live and enjoy our existence in safer and happier ways.
From the beginning, we have used our bodies and all kinds of objects in our environment as tools. Clearly, much of our success as humans on earth can be has attributed to our continuous use and improvement of our tools, assisting and building on our basic nature-given strengths. Today we have tools that help us with almost every need and activity. We design, produce, and utilize newer, more effective and satisfying goods with assistance from the environment itself for understanding and applying our energies.
Starting with simpler tools,
... we have improved to today's and tomorrow's simple and complex tools.