Erenlai - 按日期過濾項目: 週六, 22 十一月 2008
週日, 23 十一月 2008 01:53

【半聋半盲】笨笃艺术忧而不困

There is a growing number of movies and TV episodes that tell of conflicts between human intelligence and the artificial intelligence designed by humans for the control of human-like robots, machines that simulate human activity. A scenario envisioned by many scientists is to develop and manufacture humanoid robots that look and act, even feel and think as humans do. These humanoids would then be available to perform human tasks freeing humans for leisure activities. So long as there are no problems in the programs that control the robots, everything goes well. But suppose that some bad humans program the robots to attack and enslave the rest of mankind so they become the masters of the world maintaining complete control over the robots.

Another deviation depicted in stories is that the digital intelligence planted in robots develops into an independent intelligence no longer under human control and the robots then eliminate the humans to take over the world for themselves. Of course, in all the stories in the end some humans manage to instill a virus into the robot’s cyber system or come up with some bright idea that enables them to overcome the robots and restore the human domination.

In any case the age of cybernetics is here to stay and more and more sophisticated robots are being developed. I don’t understand the digital electronic program control systems or the complicated mechanical mechanisms that respond so accurately to computer control, but it fills me with awe.

Take for instance, the action of a human dashing at top speed through a heavily wooded forest with no path or level ground. It requires a keen eye to anticipate obstacles, an intelligence to transform what is seen into decisions about where to place the feet and directions to the muscles and nerves that will control the motion of the limbs and maintain bodily balance as I dash on without slowing down or injury. A human’s neurological, muscular and skeletal systems have developed over the years and he or she has the advantage of years of walking and running experience, but a robot has to start from scratch. First the mechanical structure of limbs, joints and movements, then the computer system has to be programmed to turn the images that come through the sensors of the visual system into commands that regulate every moving part so that the robot dashes forward without injury or fall. If successful, it can be cloned and reproduced.

Even more complicated are robotic representations of human emotions and intelligence. Is there some invisible line that no mechanical human-made creature can ever cross? Christians who accept the possibility of evolution believe that at some point in the upward evolution of some primate, the conditions were finally right for God to endow the creature with a soul and humankind was born with intelligence, free will, conscience, immortality and the moral responsibility to do good and avoid evil.

Is it possible that humans could develop the art of making robots to the point that conditions are just right for God to give them souls, endowing them with intelligence, free will, conscience, moral responsibility and immortality? Should this happen or seem to happen, what a raging theological discussion and controversy it would create!

The lesson to learn from all this is that no matter what humankind manages to develop and build, it can never relinquish the moral responsibility to use it well for the common good.

Here is a fable I wrote that illustrates this problem.

Attached media :
{rokbox size=|544 384|thumb=|images/slideshow_en.jpg|}media/articles/bob_robots.swf{/rokbox}
週日, 23 十一月 2008 01:51

【半聾半盲】笨篤藝術憂而不困

There is a growing number of movies and TV episodes that tell of conflicts between human intelligence and the artificial intelligence designed by humans for the control of human-like robots, machines that simulate human activity. A scenario envisioned by many scientists is to develop and manufacture humanoid robots that look and act, even feel and think as humans do. These humanoids would then be available to perform human tasks freeing humans for leisure activities. So long as there are no problems in the programs that control the robots, everything goes well. But suppose that some bad humans program the robots to attack and enslave the rest of mankind so they become the masters of the world maintaining complete control over the robots.

Another deviation depicted in stories is that the digital intelligence planted in robots develops into an independent intelligence no longer under human control and the robots then eliminate the humans to take over the world for themselves. Of course, in all the stories in the end some humans manage to instill a virus into the robot’s cyber system or come up with some bright idea that enables them to overcome the robots and restore the human domination.

In any case the age of cybernetics is here to stay and more and more sophisticated robots are being developed. I don’t understand the digital electronic program control systems or the complicated mechanical mechanisms that respond so accurately to computer control, but it fills me with awe.

Take for instance, the action of a human dashing at top speed through a heavily wooded forest with no path or level ground. It requires a keen eye to anticipate obstacles, an intelligence to transform what is seen into decisions about where to place the feet and directions to the muscles and nerves that will control the motion of the limbs and maintain bodily balance as I dash on without slowing down or injury. A human’s neurological, muscular and skeletal systems have developed over the years and he or she has the advantage of years of walking and running experience, but a robot has to start from scratch. First the mechanical structure of limbs, joints and movements, then the computer system has to be programmed to turn the images that come through the sensors of the visual system into commands that regulate every moving part so that the robot dashes forward without injury or fall. If successful, it can be cloned and reproduced.

Even more complicated are robotic representations of human emotions and intelligence. Is there some invisible line that no mechanical human-made creature can ever cross? Christians who accept the possibility of evolution believe that at some point in the upward evolution of some primate, the conditions were finally right for God to endow the creature with a soul and humankind was born with intelligence, free will, conscience, immortality and the moral responsibility to do good and avoid evil.

Is it possible that humans could develop the art of making robots to the point that conditions are just right for God to give them souls, endowing them with intelligence, free will, conscience, moral responsibility and immortality? Should this happen or seem to happen, what a raging theological discussion and controversy it would create!

The lesson to learn from all this is that no matter what humankind manages to develop and build, it can never relinquish the moral responsibility to use it well for the common good.

Here is a fable I wrote that illustrates this problem.

Attached media :
{rokbox size=|544 384|thumb=|images/stories/erenlai_cover_small/video_benduart.jpg|}media/articles/bob_robots.swf{/rokbox}
週日, 23 十一月 2008 01:18

台灣的經濟寒冬

When I was a child, I was called Wusay. My father probably preferred the "-ay" ending - he named my elder brother Foday. So we were, originally, Foday and Wusay.

Some twenty years later, one day, I came back to Tafalong to visit my Grandfather. We had a nice chat before he started to call me Nakao.

"Why do you call me Nakao?!" I was astonished.

"Your name is Nakao," said Grandpa peacefully.

Later on, I went to Sado and asked my aunt, "my name is Wusay, right?"

"Yes...." My aunt nodded, slightly confused.

"But Grandpa says, just now, that my name is Nakao."

"Oh really?" My aunt thought for a second and said, "in that case... you are Nakao."

My transformation took about ten minutes only.

One day, my neighbor, a Hoanya, asked me why I had my father’s name after my own, rather than my mother’s.

"Pangcah is a maternal society. Shouldn’t you take your mother’s name so that people can tell from which family you are?"

"Because my mother was Han," I replied. "Just that she married to a Pangcah who has a Japanese name."

"But her birth place is in Kalingko, not too far away from my father’s," I added. "She was born at the foot of Mei-lun, a nice hill. Her mother used to call her Mei-lun; sometimes my father called her Melon."

The Hoanya then suggested me to replace my father’s Japanese name with Mei-lun.

"I think Melon is better," I said. "Nakao Melon is a rare kind of melon, a Tafalong specialty."

"That’s it!" The Hoanya exclaimed. "I want to order a trunk of Nakao Melon!"

My second transformation took even less than five minutes.

There is no pinganganan (something after which one is named) for my name. My name has always been a nisanga’an (something that is created).

Attached media :
{rokbox}media/articles/Nakao_pinganganan.jpg{/rokbox}
週日, 23 十一月 2008 01:14

Taiwan in recession

"Unemployment, health care, environment... What are China’s priorities?"


When the first signs of a global economic meltdown appeared a few months ago, several analysts were rather optimistic about China, and hoped that its fast developing economy would drive the rest of the world out of the crisis. Recent developments have however forced them to redraw this picture in much more pessimistic colors. Mainly based on exports, China’s economy has been drastically affected by the decrease of consumption in both Europe and the United States, and now massive amounts of factories shutdowns are leaving millions of workers unemployed. Social discontent has already begun to manifest itself in several forms, from the taxi drivers’ strike in Chongqing to the recent riots that have been targeting local authorities in the Northwestern province of Gansu. In a recent post from his Washington Post blog, John Pomfret suggests that such events challenge two widely-held assumptions: the idea that China’s political system is a stable one, and the belief that Chinese youth doesn’t care about politics. If these assumptions turn out to be false, then the recent social unrest might prove a real test for Beijing.

One of the answers given by the central government in view of such social turmoil was a more transparent treatment of these issues in official media. This strong move from Beijing in its media management strategy has been widely commented on blogs. For instance, China Media Project’s David Bandurski provides an in-depth analysis about the media coverage of the taxi drivers’ strike in Chongqing, a coverage that has been characterized, according to the author, by “the active setting of the agenda through rapid but selective news coverage by critical state media such as Xinhua News Agency, China Central Television and People’s Daily.” This move away from systematic concealment of information to a partial transparency could be welcomed as good news, but it should rather be interpreted as a much needed change coming from a government that is more and more widely criticized, notably on the very active Chinese blogosphere.

Another opportune move from Beijing is the recent acceleration of its social agenda: along with its $586 billion stimulus plan to rescue the economy, China has announced increased spending in housing, agriculture, health care and social welfare. With more than 400 millions of Chinese not covered by any medical insurance, the reform of China’s health system has become a priority, and the propositions published on Oct 14th by the National Commission for Development and Reform, after two years of deliberations, address this problem at last. As Rich Rubaker from China Crossroads reminds us in a moving post, the current privatized system makes the costs of health-care too high for a majority of Chinese, and poor families from the countryside often need to make huge sacrifices in order to afford medical treatments. But on the other hand, French website China Analysis point out in their latest newsletter the fact that the reform project submitted in October is far from being perfect, and that some see in it a simple return to planned economy mechanisms. The challenge for Beijing is therefore to move away from a profit-driven approach to health-care without reestablishing an authoritarian management by the state and local authorities. More details about the health system reform in China can be found on the website of internationally renowned medical journal The Lancet, which has launched a very comprehensive series of articles on the topic, including publications from international scholars and even a podcast.

While social reforms are being reactivated under the pressure of social protest, a domain that might easily be overlooked in a context of economical hardship is that of environment. Where in the $585 billion stimulus plan announced by Beijing are the green investments? China Environmental Law reports that 25% of the total (US$146 billion) has been announced to be invested in “environmental protection”: this includes several initiatives in the domains of water treatment and distribution, development of alternative energies and resolution of some local environmental problems such as the“Pearl River Delta haze situation”. However, as The Green Leap Forward notices, other aspects of the plan might be contradictory with such environmental efforts: for instance, the development of a highway infrastructure might prove a good way to create jobs, but it will also result in a high carbon footprint. It is not sure that such dilemma will be taken in consideration, since Beijing expect the new infrastructures will solve unemployment problems and benefit national economy in the long run.

Another reason for being skeptical is that, despite Beijing’s goodwill, nothing guarantees that the money will be spent effectively. A reform of governance and an effective fight against official corruption are therefore some of the necessary conditions to improve both China’s social and environmental situations, and more widely to help the country out its current difficulties.


List of the blogs cited in this article:
The Green Leap Forward

Attached media :
{rokbox}media/articles/blogreview0812.jpg{/rokbox}

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