Mark Stephen Meadows

Describe yourself: Who you are and what you're doing?
I'm an author and I get myself into trouble on a professional basis by asking stupid questions of really smart people. I then write down what I've understood and that may or may not have anything to do with what was said. But I hope to illustrate the moral, ethical, and cultural impacts that robots are - and will be - having on our world.

In 2010, after nearly 20 years of working with computers and emerging technologies, I went to Japan, France, the United States, and Germany and interviewed robots. I wanted to know how the state of the art mapped to the promises of fiction. I wanted to see, touch, talk with, and learn what robots were about. And I wanted to look behind the curtain that the media throws up, and really get to the heart of where we're at with these, ...i'll call them human-shaped computers.

So I wrote, "We, Robot: Skywalker's Hand, BladeRunners, Iron Man, and How Fiction Became Fact."

How did your interest in robots / robotics start?
In 1999 I was working at a couple of well-known research centers and began taking an interest in linguistics, narrative, contextual understanding, chatbots, and what eventually led me into the tangled jungles of "Artificial Intelligence." I met some other people in these murky backwater regions and we started a company that was dedicated to generating, understanding, and processing natural language (NLP). This work led me to believe that one of the main interfaces we'll use with robots will be language. The same interface we use with one another.

If we use the same interfaces with robots as we use with ourselves, then suddenly it seems that just as a friend can control you by asking you to get him a can of coke out of the fridge, a robot could control you by asking for a can of motor oil. Ok, and if we can accept that as control, then anything that one human asks another human to do, such as pay money, or share information, can also be something a robot could control us to do. If money is paid - or information shared - with the wrong person, this can be a very serious crime (just insert the mafia, or drugs, or whatever you like to make it illegal). So we are at a point where robots will be controlling humans just as humans control other humans. And what else is morality, if not a question of freedom and control?

So there's some moral questions we gotta ask. ... And that is the story of what piqued my interest in robots!

What kind of actions needs to be done in the community to increase the interest and the awareness of robots / robotics?
A homicide! What if someone were publicly murdered, or raped, by a robot? That'd increase interest and awareness, wouldn't it? We'd suddenly have a real question on our hands of "Who's responsible for this crime?" Is it the robot? Is it the robot's software engineer(s)? Is it the robot manufacturer? Is it the person that bought the robot? Who gets punished?

Maybe a robot kidnapping? A robot bank robbery? A robot's public display of nudity? Who's responsible?
If I take my tongue out of my cheek, I can seriously say that people are murdered by robots today. This is happening in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma, Chechnya and other countries. The deaths are carried out by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that are semi-autonomous and fulfill all of the requirements of a robot under an International Standards Organization (ISO 8737) definition of a robot. I would also argue that they fulfill many if not most regional legal definitions of homicide.

The point I'm hoping to make is that increasing community interest or awareness should address our responsibilities before our capabilities. Robots are created, controlled, and commanded by us. We need to keep that in mind at all times.


[source: Vive Les Robots!]

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Mark Stephen Meadows 1

Mark Stephen Meadows.

Mark Stephen Meadows 2

Mark's book: "We, Robot: Skywalker's Hand, BladeRunners, Iron Man, and How Fiction Became Fact."