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Where Skynet Meets Wombats

Now that an artificial intelligence (AI) has defeated a human pilot, it seems that the US is ahead of China and Russia with regard to military AI (Yay for us!).

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My poor old noggin is typically jam-packed with ideas ricocheting around. Oftentimes, they munge themselves together in a cacophony of confusion. For example, my chum Jay Dowling just sent me an email with the subject line “Do artificial intelligences (AIs) have cool call signs too?” I must admit that I was intrigued, so — casting caution to the winds — I opened the message to discover we were talking about how AI Claims “Flawless Victory” Going Undefeated in Digital Dogfight With Human Fighter Pilot. The title pretty much tells the tale. According to this column, “A simulated F-16 Viper fighter jet with an artificial intelligence-driven ‘pilot’ went undefeated in five rounds of mock air combat against an actual top Air Force fighter jockey.” This really isn’t too surprising when you come to think about it, which isn’t to say that it’s not terrifyingly scary. As Jay noted in his email, it’s the pilot’s physical capabilities that are the limiting factor in a modern fighter aircraft. An AI can turn tighter and pull higher Gs for longer durations if it doesn’t have to concern itself with a human pilot who blacking out. If you get rid of the pilot, then the airframe becomes the limiting factor, which is much higher. On top of this, the AI will have better predictive capabilities and faster reaction times than its human counterpart. One of my favorite films of all time was the original Terminator movie from 1984 starring Arnold “I’ll be back” Alois Schwarzenegger as a cyborg assassin sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), whose son will one day become a savior against machines in a post-apocalyptic future. A central theme of this movie is that — at the time the action takes place in 1984 — an artificial intelligence defense network known as Skynet is poised to become self-aware and initiate a nuclear holocaust. This explains why the subject line of Jay’s next message was “Running Towards Skynet.” In this case, the message contained a link to this video, which informs us that the US is ahead of China and Russia with regard to military artificial intelligence (Yay for us!).  
As an aside, on Thursday 21 November 2019, the Cambridge Union Society — a debating and free speech society founded in 1815 at the University of Cambridge in England — hosted a debate to discuss the proposition “This house believes artificial intelligence will bring more harm than good.” The interesting point about this debate is that the speaker for the proposition was an AI… as was the opposing speaker. Returning to Jay’s original question as to whether AIs will one day have cool call signs like the ones in the movie Top Gun — “Goose,” “Iceman,” “Merlin,” “Viper,” “Wolfman,” and, of course, “Maverick” — I want to go on the record here and now as putting dibs on the call sign “Wombat.” Why “Wombat”? Well, I feel it has an undeniably jaunty je ne sais quoi to it. Also, I just read a rather interesting article detailing 12 Wonderful Facts About Wombats, including a tasty tidbit that the largest marsupial ever to roam the Earth — weighing in at 3 tons and measuring 14 feet from nose to tail — was a mega-wombat that lived in Australia about 2.5 million years ago. One reason I referred to this as a “tasty tidbit” is that the mega-wombat began to disappear around the same time humans started to appear on the “Unfinished Continent,” which means we probably ate them, which reminds me that it’s time for lunch, which means I must bid you adieu…

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David Ashton

Eating Wombats?? Sacrilege!! Wombats are by far the cutest Australian animal. Anyone who has seen the (now old) Australian TV series “A country practice” will attest to this – one of the stars was a wombat called Fatso. Although I don’t think a 14-foot wombat would make a very good pet….

Charles Pfeil

As I pass the through decades of my life (past the 7th a couple years ago) I began to wonder if I will live to see the total destruction of civilization on Earth. I am confident that those who were in their 70s during WWII wondered the same thing – although the end of humanity was truly on the edge at that moment in time.

After WWII, science fiction novels became very popular. In the late 1970s, the movie industry began to produce sci-fi movies that showed a future in which humans were destroyed by AI androids and robots of our own creation, or aliens using AI as their weapon of choice.

I love most of these movies and have outlived many of the end-of-the-world dates. Maybe it is just because our technology hasn’t evolved fast enough, or maybe it is because the greatness of mankind has been able to win over self-destruction. I pray for the latter.

But these days it is difficult to see through the fog. “A man walks into a bar and orders a corona and two hurricanes. The bar tender replies, that would be 20.20.”

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