Who Will Command The Robot Armies?

It’s a rant about chatbots, machine learning, and the issues of accountability and power that go with automation.

We have robot armies. We have all kinds of drones, mini drones, unmanned tanks, horrifying mechanical mules for infantry…

There’s going to be a point where we simply don’t send actual humans into combat. Currently we still have people there as a notional point of control and decision, but that is unlikely to last much longer.

America has been in a permanent state of declared emergency since 9/11 and military research has gone along with that. The cycle of conflict around the world simply does not stop.

The old military gear gets handed off to the police force, which is available to them in all scenarios – including civil unrest. This is why riots are met with police in tanks and body armour.

Police departments also love drones, because who doesn’t like playing with toys?

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Fiona Chan ? @mobywhale

As always, @baconmeteor has the audience in stitches Best way to close out #Direction16.

4:39 PM – 11 Nov 2016

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#NotAllRobots are trying to kill us. The JuiceBro is just a $700 juicer. There’s a $200 smart winebottle that doesn’t pour if its batteries are flat. People are portscanning their home networks to find their smart kettle. There’s a smart umbrella that tells you when it’s raining. Our houses are full of devices that want our attention.

Who’s going to manage all of this? Hackers.

Pausing for a second to ponder… why do hackers have such bad ergonomics?

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Deloitte Digital AU


Who’s going to unify all the technology available in our ecosystems? Hackers. With bad ergonomics. #Direction16

4:40 PM – 11 Nov 2016 · Sydney, New South Wales

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(heat map of america) “…this map could mean so many things right now…” but actually it was the map of the source of DoS attacks launched by IoT devices. IoT has done a terrible job of security.

Google is trying to control everything with Google Home. The day Google announced Google Home, Yahoo disclosed the fact they’d been monitoring all email passing through their system. Combine that with the changes in leadership in the US, are people really going to be keen to have more and more devices that can listen in their homes?

There was a kind of tyre screech noise as people suddenly had second thoughts about IoT. But that’s ok because Amazon just keeps going and we like buying things, so…

Amazon is a candidate to control the robot army. They have huge reach, huge amounts of servers, a huge human workforce doing low skilled work. But Jeff Bezos immediately congratulated Donald Trump… what can be expected if Amazon is asked to reveal data?

A lot of contemporary startups are really just quietly repackaging low-paid work. Mechanical Turk As A Service.


Mark Pesce @mpesce

“A lot of startups are just repackaging hard labor by low-paid workers.” Preach it @baconmeteor #Direction16

4:43 PM – 11 Nov 2016

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A great commentary on this is Ethical Turk – a device that ‘chooses’ who in the room gets cooled by the fan by sending a photo to a low-paid human who decides.

We get replies on twitter from accounts where it’s not clear if you’re dealing with a real person or a script.

Who trains who? Maciej’s flatmate thought he’d caught the cat to fetch, but they realised in the end the cat had trained him to be a cat toy. So when we “train” algorithms, eg. on facebook, who is really being trained? Facebook has trained us to click things a whole lot.

There’s an antipattern in development where apps get given all possible access on your phone, because it’s easy during development. This is essentially why Pokemon Go had such extreme permissions. It’s a really common mistake made by developers on a deadline. Devs making mistakes regularly collects and stores information that didn’t really need to be collected.

The final answer really: whoever wants it the most will control the robot army.

We, developers, have had an easy run and not been careful enough. We tend to think we can solve all problems with more technology; and that doesn’t work. We are kind of hoping we’ll eventually create a super-intelligence that will fix all our robots for us.

On the way to SYD, Maciej stopped off in Dubai and hadn’t fully thought about the implications. Dubai is a huge example of the gig economy – terribly poorly paid workers have made a brand new city out of nothing. It’s modern slavery.

We haven’t planned ahead at all. We have to think about all these robots we’ve created. They’re not that bad, but they need some structure and guidance.

We need to think about the kind of world we want, and actually start building that world. We must make sure we are protecting the people who rely on the robots.