Geektopia, a Scandinavian Feminist Socialist collective

Autonomous robots are back in the media. A bunch of smart and creative folk have been considering the possibilities and risks of a world in which autonomous robots exceed the capacity of us carbon-based life-forms. The tendency to anthropomorphise the robotics stories, especially in the media, often makes me shudder or worry about the credulity of some people.

So, here is a little thought experiment for the party season. Instead of looking way out into the future, when this outcome has happened, I want to look at the period when society first encounters these smart machines. What kinds of problems might we wish these devices to be used to tackle? What benefits would we seek to get from them? Above all, what would we learn about the world where these automatons take over? Let’s call this land Geektopia.

If, like me, your weekend has ever been ruined by the inconsistent decision making of blind, incompetent, biased officials who don’t understand the offside rule then the chance to replace frail humans with intelligent robots programmed to apply the rules of the game accurately and consistently is an offer too good to miss.

How might this work?

Imagine first a robot referee and two assistant robots. An incident occurs. Is it a penalty? The referee and one of the assistants from their perspective think it’s a penalty. The other assistant robot can see from its viewpoint that it is definitely not a penalty. This type of problem arises with humans all the time.

So, for a society of autonomous robots to outperform humans in this situation and get the right decision they will have to share and understand each other’s views. Far from the macho robots of science fiction, Real Autonomous Robots, RARs, when they arrive will be very feminine.

Let’s look at the decision making of our RAR society. What is a poor autonomous robot to do if, knowing it is right, it is overruled by the ref robot?

Sulk? That seems like a bad role model. Even a democratic vote 2-1 will get the wrong result. So to better human performance we will need to re-engineer social relationships. If a society of autonomous robots mimics human social structures then it will inherit the flaws of human societies. Decision making will need to be peer and consensual.

By this logic, the cultural norms of Geektopia will look like a Scandinavian Feminist Socialist collective. For me, this can’t come soon enough.

So, do we have to wait?

Some unkind soul, obviously not me, might suggest that if such a collective were to referee a football match then a 90 minute match would probably take 48 hours. All that bonding and agonising would, with humans involved, detract from the spectator experience. However, given the inevitable progress of Moore’s Law it won’t be long before the processing and communication capabilities of RARs will eliminate the ‘overhead’ of the distaff side of our species.

My vision of the hardware is something like Abba designed by Apple.

What I hope I’ve illustrated is that the next time you read a report that claims that in the near future artificial intelligence will run wild and autonomous entities will roam, then rule, the Earth, like ‘The Terminator’ but without Arnie, it’s worth drilling down a bit to understand what proponents of this view actually think they mean.

I offer a word of caution, for any young male readers. It’s best to avoid any tweets along the lines of ‘a robot’s place is in the kitchen’. Those words will come back to haunt you during your working life. Don’t do it.

If the prospect of autonomous beings with capabilities beyond that of any man worries you, may I offer some simple advice?

Relax! They’re called women. Many of them are very friendly.

Sisters, I’m with you all the way!

This is my last blog post for BCS for this year.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you all who’ve read this far.

Fraternal… no that’s wrong.

What I meant to say is Sororial greetings for 2013. Health and happiness. Cheers!

Robots of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

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About the author
Chris is a technology and policy futurologist. Chris has been in the IT industry since 1980. His roles have spanned Honeywell, ICL, HP, Microsoft and Capgemini. He is a Fellow of the BCS and a Fellow of the RSA.

See all posts by Chris Yapp

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