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The Smart-Machine Threat

As anyone who has seen the Terminator movies knows, the rapid increase in the intelligence of machines is not nec­essarily cause for celebration. Already the prospect of dangerous technological devices turning on their creators has scientists issuing warnings. Several who attended a conference on the subject at Asilomar on California’s Monterey Bay in February have now begun to speak out.

It’s not just a matter of automation taking over jobs now done by humans like driving taxis, or even performing medical services complete with empathy. Developments which raise flags include a robot that can find an electrical outlet and plug itself in when it needs a charge; predator drones that kill autonomously in war; computer viruses that no one can stop. What happens if those developments somehow get together?

Dr. Eric Horvitz a Microsoft researcher who organized the conference told the New York Times that he believes “computer scientists must respond to the notions of super intelligent machines and artificial intelligence systems run amok.”

For some, though, the dangers of technology out of control are an inevitable consequence of a materialistic sci­ence completely disconnected from any guiding spiritual principles. The terrifying abyss of a world at the mercy of impersonal and random forces is the Frankenstein-like creation of a science which denies the reality of any overarch­ing intelligence by whom it might be held responsible. Unlike the disconnecting of the computer Hal in the movie 2001, however, the solution, some argue, may involve unplugging, not only the machine, but its creator as well, and replacing them with something more in harmony with the deeper needs of the human soul.

 

Pre-Historic Map?

Ancient maps are making news these days. Articles elsewhere in this issue deal with two, including the newly authen­ticated Vinland map of North America which documents that the Vikings were here hundreds of years before Colum­bus. As for Columbus, the evidence grows that he had access to a lost map of the world, perhaps the complete version of the famous Piri Reis map which shows, in a fragment, accurate detail of the coast of Antarctica beneath the ice. Don’t miss Rand and Rose Flem-Ath’s intriguing account of the search for that lost map, which involved the govern­ments of two countries and a U.S. president.

In the meantime archaeologists now say they have found a 14,000-year-old map made by ice age hunter-gatherers of a region on the southern side of the Spanish Pyrenees. Pilar Utrilla and his associates at the University of Zarogoza, Spain, have spent years disentangling the etchings on a polished piece of sandstone and figured out that above depic­tions of a reindeer, a stag and some ibex is a guide—complete with representations of local landmarks and rivers—to an important cave. Not everyone in mainstream academia buys into the idea, but some are quite worked up at finding what they believe is the oldest hunting map in the world.

As for the Piri Reis map and its detail from before formation of Antarctica’s very ancient coastal ice, the subject never comes up, except in publications like this one. It just doesn’t fit the paradigm.

 

Earthquake Invisibility Shield?

Just as newly developing technology can lead light waves to travel around an object rendering it invisible, a new form of earthquake protection can cause seismic waves to travel around a building and maybe even a city, thus sparing them from damage.

Scientists at the University of Liverpool have demonstrated that an ‘invisibility cloak’ using concentric rings of plastic can be made to divert surface waves and shelter structures from some effects of earthquakes. The technique mirrors recent developments in ‘invisibility technology’ at the University of California and elsewhere where light is diverted in such a way as to create a Star Trek-like virtual invisibility cloak for certain frequencies of light.

One drawback to the earthquake diversion strategy may be that the seismic waves don’t actually disappear, they just go somewhere else, which may lead to some significant new zoning ‘rumbles’ in the cities of the future.

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