Well, HAL hasn’t exactly existed yet aside from movie magic and our imagination. In case you are not a big Sci Fi fan and have no idea what I am describing here, HAL 9000 (just called HAL, affectionately), is an all powerful super computer from Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, which is based on Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel”. In A Space Odyssey, which is one of my favorite space stories, HAL is the main computer controlling all ship systems for a group of astronauts on a secret mission exploring the potential for extra terrestrial life in space. HAL, who is so smart it is believed “he can’t make a mistake”, becomes increasingly paranoid of the astronauts, and their intentions when they question their task, so he kills them off one by one in the vast lonely expanse of space to protect the mission he is programmed to carry out.
While HAL certainly isn’t a ChatBot, at least in our current sense of the word, there are some striking similarities to our current day computer conversational friends. Both are simply computers, in a root form. Both are automated. Both interact with humans. Both either make decisions for us or strongly assist us in our decision making. Both further the impending doom of humanity. Just kidding about the last one, sort of!
The topic this begs a debate about is How Comfortable Are We With Allowing Computers To Carry Out Our Needs? When it comes to playing music, or searching for a phone number for your insurance company, most people are probably very comfortable with using ChatBots or similar conversational interface systems like Alexa or Google Home, albeit some more than others undoubtedly. But simple, non-threatening, tasks are easy for them to complete, right? We are currently pretty comfortable with the “low risk” region for them. But what about higher risk tasks, or actual decision making for us humans? “Alexa: plan my wedding” … no way right?!
One thing’s for sure: the technology is only moving in one direction. Companies and industry are increasingly relying on computer AI technology to increase operational effectiveness and reduce demand on valuable Human Resources. And why not? Some 50% of telephone representative operator tasks could simply have been completed by a ChatBot, even at current tech level.
Our future, short and long term, will be more shaped by technology than ever before. It is only a matter of time before computers, ChatBots and Alexa, are making complicated decisions for us based on their ethical machine learning and programming. Personally, the way I feel about it is that looking forward is always the hardest part when dealing with computer AI and the potential reach computers can have. When looking back though, in hindsight, their trust always feels pretty safe actually. OR is that because that’s how they are already programming us to feel?!