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Commentary: Science fiction continues to become fact

We are running the risk of enabling technological advancements to act and think for us, says column writer

Although I appreciate and benefit from modern communication, including social media and other advanced technologies, I’m not a proficient user like many others, mostly those much younger than me. 

My weekly Google app use report says my average daily app time on my cellphone is about one hour, mostly on Facebook Messenger, the internet and email. 

I have a nice car, eight years old, but still with more electronic creature comforts than I need or even know how to use. My oldest daughter has a car slightly newer than mine, but with more electronic creature comforts than my car has, including a front bumper sensor to prevent driving too close to the car ahead. A nice safety feature, but the sensor malfunctioned for the first three years she had the car, turning on without need, which disallowed use of cruise control. She spent three years getting it fixed and three years without cruise. OK, cruise control is nice but not essential, but it is an example of the car being designed to out-think the driver — another step to the driverless vehicles. (I think some will applaud this trend because they believe most drivers are idiots).

We live in an automated, technically advanced world. This is good on so many fronts, such as communication and transportation, and of course, the sciences, including medical science. But we are running the risk of enabling technological advancements to act and think for us. Robotic machines already exist in advanced manufacturing plants, effectively and efficiently assembling cars and other implements. Robots are moving into our homes; you should know this if you own a Roomba vacuum. Welcome to The Jetsons!

The latest technology gangbuster, not particularly new but more advanced and applied, is artificial intelligence.  AI, or rather ChatGPT AI, is the latest application that is used extensively in Internet search engines, including tracking and cataloguing our online usage. It can undertake significant research, report writing, do a student’s homework in seconds or minutes. Other than knowing key words we enter, AI does our work, our thinking, makes our choices. Thanks to a necessary but unfortunate long-term consequence of COVID-19 and the advent of Zoom, many workers can work and meet from the safety of their home. Direct human contact became unnecessary, for heaven’s sake. Federal employees, including workers at Canada Revenue Agency, went on strike recently partly to enable a work-from-home ability into their contract! 

We are at risk of becoming dependent on robotic thinking, feeling and acting. Some of us may already be there. Science fiction continues to become fact. 

Roger Jackson is a former civil servant and a St. Albert resident.

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