When The Robots Take Over

People now are suspicious of robots and AI and there are plenty of books and movies and celebrities telling us how risky it is. I think robots will take over, but not like that, and nobody will be afraid.

Just like nobody is really phased about the global surveillance we are under on a constant basis by government and private advertising firms and thieves, people won't bee too worried about robots. In fact I think that people will love robots in the way they love their gmail, iphones and facebook. A love so deep that criticism of the target of their affection will either be selectively tuned out or reacted to with indignation and belligerence.

Why would people question robots that deliver their orders from amazon, make them food, drive them around and do all kinds of other things that should probably be left to the imagination? Apple already walls people into an ecosystem from which they struggle to escape, google already snoops on us and we allow it. We allow a certain amount of abuse if we like what we get in return.

People who see what these companies are doing and question it are seen as zealots. Apple's walled garden doesn't scare anyone. In fact they want to be there. They like it. As long as it serves their short term needs. And I am a total hypocrite. I do the same thing. 

So when robots come along that call me sweety and bring me waffles with caramel and banana in bed on a Saturday morning, how can I press myself to question them? An iBot will surely be completely closed to me, sending info back to its servers, and so will a Google Bot. But we don't really mind all of that, as long as we get waffles! We should demand the things we know are better for all of us. We should demand transparency, since this technology has entered our private lives. We should be very insistent and very wary of it, but we wouldn't be because if smartphones and the internet has taught us anything, it is that convenience outstrips all other concerns. At bottom, we are all dirty little hedonists, who don't think having things at our fingertips is even enough. We want it fed directly to us. 

There is nothing wrong with loving technology. I think we should appreciate the Googles and Apples for what they have done for us. But we give them a free pass, and we will do the same with consumer robotics. We should demand transparency to the point where the code running on those robots are accessible, and to the point where we know every shred of data it collects. Of course, we will be told that the robots can learn better if they share information, but at what peril do we put ourselves if we don't know what is being shared? And what about security? An autonomous car can take you where you want to go, but at which point will it take you where you don't want to go? What prevents a house cleaning robot from being hacked and setting your house on fire? We need to be more wary this time, because we are already sloppy enough in our thinking. But as always I think we will probably end up pushing our recklessness to its full potential and start mending our ways when things start to collapse all around us. That seems to be the human way.

Why Secularism Is Important

Portion of a graph of religious sects

Secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries.

In a country where 85% of people are Christian, why shouldn't we have Christian prayers in schools and even in parliament? Why should we be neutral toward religion if a certain religion is over-represented in the populace? Why shouldn't we have laws that represent the religious views of such a large number of people?

Secular government was conceived by religious people. Why would they do that? I will attempt to show the motivation behind secular government and why even though most atheists support it, it makes sense for everyone to support it.

The truth is that even if a particular religion dominates a country, there are still many sects of that religion, which are offshoots that have different values and beliefs. Not all Christians believe the same things. Some believe that evolution is false and should not be taught in schools, while others believe that god created the first life but that life evolved from there. Some believe that life evolved but god intervened in the process to create man. Some believe that species change over time, but new species only come about through god's design. Even if we had a religious government, it would be difficult if not impossible to find common ground between different sectarian views of the same religion! The best way to avoid this situation is by not favouring any particular religion in government.

While many Christians would be happy to see Christian prayer and Bible study in schools, they wouldn't be happy if that school taught that their particular sect was wrong and bad. We know what happens with such sectarian governments. In Islam, Sunni governments are not favourable to Shia Muslims, side lining them and sometimes even turning a blind eye when Shia Muslims are victims of crime. Catholic governments were especially brutal toward protestant heresy, ultimately resulting in genocide, such as the genocide of the French Huguenot's, many of whom fled France for South Africa and introduced wine making to the Western Cape. The history taught by different religious sects are not favourable to others either. If you read Catholic history the protestants are badmouthed as heretics and traitors, and protestants think of Catholics as murderers and idol worshippers.

When people want prayer back in school, and they are not Catholic, I ask them if they would want their children to do Hail Marys and confession in school. What if your religion becomes a minority? Would you be equally happy if all history, science, politics, music and art taught in schools was Muslim or Hindu? The reason we have a rights based society, and not simple majoritarian rule, is because nobody will know when they will find themselves as part of a minority. If not them, what of their children. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, which is perhaps something Christians should keep in mind. If Christians impose Christianity now, how would it be unfair to say that Islam should not be imposed when it numerically overtakes Christianity?

A common fear is that secularism is actually just the imposition of atheism as the state's religious position. This is not true. An atheist state would conceivably be actively anti-clerical, disbanding churches and outlawing religion, or teaching children in school that there is no god. The goal of any state should be to represent citizens as best it can, and as a secularist I believe that such a government would not be in my best interest or yours, and I would fight along side religious people to change a system like that. For people to be most free and for society to work best, the freedom to practice your religion should be allowed, and that is what secularism is about.

In order to live in a pluralistic and successful society, the only real way to accomplish that is by tolerating different views of religion, and not favouring or imposing a single one. In our nation people of different religions and sects work together and even form friendships and intimate relationships that cross religious and sectarian boundaries. We generally understand that our beliefs are personal, and that there are good people with other beliefs that we can get along with. On a more cynical level, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian or Atheist  money all has the same value. To be economically successful, imposing a certain religion would be unwise. People would just go to freer places where they feel equal.