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"I'm afraid I can't do that."

I have recently joined the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) which is the organisation to support and drive IT research. In order to not only support the USA-centric research community and also have local benefits, I have also joined the GI (Gesellschaft für Informatik) which is the largest German organisation of that kind. Since I have given up on my PhD endeavours a good year ago, I have been looking for something to stay in touch with current IT research.

One of the benefits that comes with being an ACM member is that you get a print and on-line subscription to the Communications of the ACM, one of the finest and broadest journals linking research and practice of computer science. And you are automatically subscribed to ACM's TechNews newsletter (which is now also available for non-members). The good thing about this newsletter is that it provides digests of mostly comprehensive articles so you not only get the meaningless first 200 words.

The first headline of today's issue is really scary: Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man. It brings to mind memories of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. It finally has arrived: The Age of Technology (as in: supporting role actor rises to stardom) is coming, and it's coming hard. The article speaks about evolving technology that is becoming increasingly autonomous and indistinguishable from human behaviour (medical robots supposed to be empathic). It's strange how so many prophecies turn out to be true, and sooner than predicted.

The good thing is also in the article:

"[...] in choosing Asilomar for the discussions, the group purposefully evoked a landmark event in the history of science. In 1975, the world’s leading biologists also met at Asilomar to discuss the new ability to reshape life by swapping genetic material among organisms. Concerned about possible biohazards and ethical questions, scientists had halted certain experiments. The conference led to guidelines for recombinant DNA research, enabling experimentation to continue."

So in that regard it seems that we are taking a path that is different from the one in the artistic predictions about the not-too-distant future: We notice the emerging problem and install safety features to avoid the dragons. Hopefully, we will succeed in that and our grandchilds won't have "The Second Renaissance" in their history textbooks.

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