A few days ago, I watched Bill Gates on Q&A (a high-brow Aussie talk show). On it, this very witty and down-to-earth man answered questions about wealth, charity, capitalism, the environment and technology. It was the questions about technology that of course got me sitting up in my seat. Here are some of them:
- Do you think one day robots doing human tasks, such as fighting wars, will become reality?
- Do you ever think that artificial intelligence will ever surpass the human mind, and if so, how would humanity handle it?
- Information technology is becoming very integrated deeply into our lives and brings new levels of convenience at the cost of privacy. Does it worry you that this technology will be misused in the future in terms of controlling human activity?
To hear Bill Gates’ full and very intelligent answers, just go to the interview here.
Now, what struck me about these questions was the fear of the future reflected in them. I’m not one to worry about the future – just read my post on what I think will kick-start the apocalypse. So I thought I’d add to Bill Gates’ answers!
In talking about artificial intelligence, he mentioned that computers are far faster than we are today – multiplying, perfect memory… the ability to simulate things. Still, he concluded that:
it’ll be a long time before you’re matching the type of broad judgment that humans exercise in many different areas… Over time, machines are going to get very smart and like all modern things we’ll have to adjust to that.
I agree that our broad judgment isn’t a patch on computer memory, but I disagree that computer memory is perfect. If my computer crashes in the middle of my writing a story, as long as I get back into the document fairly quickly, I’ll remember everything I wrote before the crash. The computer won’t!
Crash or no crash, every time I close down a Word document, the software forgets what I edited during that last session. Whereas I won’t.
As I’m writing and saving a story, I’m also remembering to breath, drink water, keep my back straight. My subconscious is pondering how to resolve that tricky plot point I’ve reached in another story I’m writing simultaneously. And I’ll remember to do multiple other tasks too, without writing myself notes. The human memory is far more complex than a computer’s. So don’t worry about those robots or AIs!
When Bill Gates was talking about technology and privacy, he mentioned that in the past we had implicit privacy because people weren’t very good at gathering information. Whereas now the transcript of your divorce trail might be online, and your neighbour or future employer might be able to discover your speeding fine history.
Well, I respectfully have to disagree here. People have always been good at gathering information – just in a slightly different way. Fifty years ago Mrs Jones from two doors down might have gone to your divorce hearing, and she’d happily recount the whole session for you, verbatim, over a cup of tea – and she’d come armed with additional information on emphasis and mood too, not to mention potted histories of the judge and lawyers involved. She probably even knew the officer typing the transcript when they were a kid at school. A saved transcript can’t know or show all that.
As for those speeding fines – well, PC Plod who used to live on the other side of the hill from you fifty years ago knew all about those in his head. He probably told his wife too. And she’s a bit of a gossip. Plus, everyone knows you speed. They see you zipping around town. That’s why they call you Speedy Sue.
No, there’s no hiding yourself from the world, there never has been. Privacy has always been something we’ve had to fight for, and protect. The only reason we don’t have to worry so much about Mrs Jones from down the street anymore is because we don’t know our neighbours as well as we once did. Technology has been evolving since the wheel. But life won’t change as much as you think it will in the future – only the method by which we experience it.
I say the same thing to writers taking my social media courses – social media is just an update.
I also say the same thing to writers worried about the future of publishing. Yes, with book sales down, writers are having a tough time right now. But haven’t we always? Yes, commissioning editors are being told they’re not allowed to acquire first-time novelists anymore, period, because they’re a risk. But haven’t they always been a risk? Heck, even developed authors can be a risk. That’s no reason to give up! With great risk comes great reward!
Readers love their favourite authors. But they also love fresh voices and original ideas. As a first-time novelist, I believe I’ve got both – so I don’t see myself as a risk. I’m an asset! And I’m in this for the long-run. So I refuse to be afraid. You shouldn’t be afraid either.
Change happens all the time. So whether you’re worried about the future of technology or publishing or both, try not to be – it’s only the future 🙂
Did anyone else watch the Bill Gates interview? If so, what did you think?
Whether you did or didn’t – are you afraid of the future of technology or publishing? Let me know in the comments below…!