Artificial Intelligence: Getting rid of humans?

Written by Oscar Siches

Written by Oscar Siches

My mother made me an avid reader from the early age of nine. It was 1963, the missile crisis had everybody afraid of the failing nuclear détente USA-URSS and the start of   WW3, last of such wars and the end of the human race. Science fiction was in its heyday, and few of the writers had visions making them a modern Jules Verne… 

George Orwell published ‘1984’ in 1949, and people looked at that date with awe, thinking nobody was going to make it that far anyway… Robert Heinlein’s 1957 ‘Door into Summer’ places the protagonist and his ginger ale loving cat ‘Petronius’ in 1970, while he designs an intelligent Vacuum cleaner almost identical to today’s Roomba. Ray Bradbury imagined the end of books as a tool for totalitarian governments to manipulate information to the masses, and Isaac Asimov, Russian-born American, stated his ‘three laws of robotics’ – which remain a valid element of evaluation today, 71 years after they were published, because we are worried about the same subject: Artificial Intelligence (AI). What happens if AI takes over?

Let’s go back. Azimov three laws of robotics: 

First: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm

Second: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 

Third: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. 

Many governments could learn from creating such simple laws with few words and huge meaning.

The scientific/philosophical concern arising from the future existence of those man-made smart mechanical creatures that ‘could think’, was that robots could evolve to the point of dominating humans. It is quite clear that the first Asimov law is the one stating that humans must stay the masters, no matter what. 

But robots were not AI. They were machines programmed to carry out certain limited tasks, triggered by voice, digital instructions, or images acquired. Robots, being the symbol of AI in the middle of 20th century. 

Today we let AI englobe far more uses and interfacing with human beings, not needing the human-looking shell for it, but that old danger about inanimate intelligence is still valid. 

The nautical activities and business, having become an important hospitality driven sector, is extremely vulnerable to that. In the Netherlands and Germany, full automated marinas featuring charge systems like those of caravan camping have existed for more than 10 years. Parking places like those we, the industry, insist a marina should not be. Such berthing places cover the necessity of power, water and sometimes Wi-Fi, but lack the ambience the nautical enthusiast enjoys as part of the boating journey. They are only good for that specific service task.

With the recent proliferation of marina-acquiring groups both in the USA and Europe, there is a risk of digitizing operations beyond the bare necessities (more digitized, more data known, more possible book value), favouring automatic data gathering, and often personnel reductions, including those on the front line who are the face of the marina, the first face the arriving clients see.

There are too many things I still prefer to deal with in the old, analogic way as following tradition, probably the strongest pillar of yachting. Fine to have automated lights that switch as needed for sunrise and sunset, but if I want to have them on during a dark-sky winter day, or off at night when fireworks commemorate a special occasion, that’s at my say-so. Great to read meters remotely, but I want my guys to check the pedestals visually, to confirm, check leaks, overheated cables or elements. I want to take clients for a drink now and then and remind them that the marina is safe, efficient and hospitality driven, and remember the topics they like to chat about: soccer, sailing, politics, cars, or family. That is a type of light therapy that makes everybody comfortable, and a marina should be always comfortable for users. The conclusions and decisions AI develop are technology wonders and certainly will help running the business… but we humans must have the last word.


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