Firms Relying on Unethical Business Models Should be Allowed to Fail
When I take a look at American society it is clearly evident the socioeconomic inequality and injustice that exists. Is it ethical to allow such social injustice to continue unchecked? Allison Aubrey, in her article, alludes to the rising income disparity in America: "Overall, the average compensation of fast-food CEOs has quadrupled since 2000" (1). What Aubrey is affirming is not only to show that CEO compensation has risen by what amounts to an approximate 300 percent increase, but to bring our attention to the fact that the middle and working class have not seen wage increases of a similar proportion. Dee Dee Myers, in her article, What Class Warfare Really Looks Like, points out the facts of income distribution in America: "The top 1 percent of Americans now take home nearly a quarter of all income and control more than 40 percent of the country's wealth “ roughly the same amount as the bottom 90 percent" (2). Here, Myers is acknowledging that not only are earners in the 99[sup]th[/sup] percentile incredibly wealthy, but also that the super wealthy hold nearly half of the available wealth in America. This is a problem, but there is a slightly less obvious evil that must be addressed. Within the scope of this paper I will draw upon the works of Aubrey and Myers, as well as other sources, to project my thesis. Corporations that rely on paying unlivable wages in order to stay in business, while making their executives and shareholders rich, should not be allowed to exist and should simply go out of business; this would be favorable for the entire country.
Consider the case of a corporation such as MacDonald's. They rely on a business model that requires their staff employees to be compensated very poorly. One might suggest that if they would raise the price of a McDouble very slightly that they could pay a higher wage, and these workers would be able to buy more food from MacDonald's, having more money to spend. However, if they could increase the cost of a McDouble to increase their profit margin and still remain relevant in the market, they would have already done so. MacDonald's sells low quality food, what would be considered an inferior good. When people have greater expendable income the demand for normal goods rises, however, the demand for inferior goods falls. As such, it is not in their favor to make anyone wealthier, except the greedy executives and shareholders. Of course, MacDonald's and their workers contribute to real GDP growth in the economy. However, some will argue that the minimum wage workers responsible for doing the grunt work do not deserve wage increases, (in fact their real income is falling) as they are not contributors to the growth in output; this is bunk, without these workers MacDonald's would not be able to be do business under the business model they have built.
For instance, in Jeffrey Dorfman's article, Almost Everything You Have Been Told About The Minimum Wage Is False, he acknowledges that labor productivity has grown faster than the minimum wage over the last few decades, but that using the overall growth in productivity as an argument for a minimum wage increase is flawed; he claims that we need a metric of the productivity growth of the subset of workers making minimum wage (3). What Dorfman is alleging here is that in his opinion, economy wide increases in growth are to be considered irrelevant when considering wages and real income among minimum wage workers. GDP growth results in inflation, and the value of currency falls. There are several means by which the Fed controls inflation that are outside the scope of this paper, but the point is that the Fed strives to maintain a roughly stable positive inflation rate. When considering the economy overall, it is irrelevant who contributes the most to economic growth, since all of us are using the same currency.
Considering this, I find these types of claims morally objectionable, as well as unethical. I also feel the same way about corporations that adopt such business models that are fueled by the greed of the elite upper class. These firms are effectually robbing the poor to accumulate wealth. Why is society content with such immoral practices that could be argued to be a drain on society? It may be because it is not immediately obvious, until one looks deeply into the economic aspects and the financial practices of these firms. Some of these huge firms are likely engaging in business practices which would be criminal were they not armed to the teeth with lawyers. The United States v. AT&T antitrust case of 1982 comes to mind, which resulted in the breakup of the company into the many baby bells. This is not capitalism, there is virtually no perfect competition here, anti-competitive strategy is rampant, and Pareto efficiency is no more than a pipe dream.
Furthermore, the workers making minimum wage cannot support themselves without government benefits, another fact that supports my claim that these firms are a drain on society. According to Nell Minow, "Taxpayers are subsidizing the CEO pay plan "¦ and that's (sic) simply intolerable" (qtd. in Aubrey 2). Aubrey is bringing to light here the fact that these firms are being indirectly subsidized, forcing their employees to rely on government benefits, rather than pay them a living wage as they should. A portion of the taxes paid by society in effect is being used to keep firms such as MacDonald's in business, which would otherwise fail. According to Aubrey, a report that was released found that 52 percent of fast-food workers are receiving government benefits of some form (2).
Naturally, this is a major problem. I also see no signs of improvement, rather the contrary. When this country was built it could not have anticipated the existence of such large firms. Thus, it was not prepared to lay down the proper laws in the very beginning to prevent this problem. The corporations are now virtually writing these laws, so that they can legally exploit the public in ways that would otherwise be criminal.
I acknowledge that many may disagree with my assertions, and may claim that these large firms are behind much of the driving force of growth and innovation. I do not dispute this, or claim that this is untrue. However, the business practices of these firms, according to my own code of ethics, are morally wrong. Every person has their own type of ethic and their own values; however, I believe that there are some ethical values which should be common among humanity. The people of society cannot coexist together peacefully until we all find some moral fiber within ourselves, and stand together against what is evil.
In short, many large firms rely on greedy business practices to stay in business. These practices are unethical, and a drain on society, as they take advantage of the poor to support their evil empires. Firms that could not stay in business if they were to compensate employees with livable wages should simply be allowed to fail. The sociopaths that run these firms should either change their business models to something more ethically acceptable, else simply be allowed to fail. I do not believe this would be detrimental to the economy. New firms would sprout up to take their place, and it is possible to run a business while paying employees a decent wage. This would require a different type of business model, and different strategies. Perhaps it would require more effort from the CEOs, demanding a bit more intellect from them to design systems that are actually efficient. Pareto optimality may not be possible to fully achieve, though I do believe that by changing our way of thinking, it is possible to approach as near as is possible.
Aubrey, Allison. "Fast-Food CEOs Earn Supersize Salaries; Workers Earn Small Potatoes." NPR 22 April 2014: 1-2. Print.
Myers, Dee Dee. "What Class Warfare Really Looks Like." Politico 11 July 2011: 2. Print.
Dorfman, Jeffrey. "Almost Everything You Have Been Told about the Minimum Wage Is False." Forbes 30 Jan. 2014: 3. Print.
Pinheiro, John. "AT&T Divestiture & the Telecommunications Market." Berkeley Technology Law Journal 2.2 (1987): 316. Web. 7 May 2016.
Death by Deprecation; ZERO DAYBack in 2016, some may remember the famous case of the FBI asking Apple to help them in the cracking of an iPhone owned by a dead terrorist. It turns out that they didn't need Apple's help at all. A zero day exploit was supposedly discovered and brought to the attention of the FBI that would allow the agency to gain access to the data stored on the smart-phone without Apple's help. Whether they even needed that exploit at all is a matter of personal conjecture, but Apple went forth and patched the newly made known exploit. It was also then apparently unnecessary for Apple to provide any extra help to the FBI in this matter, as the FBI had shown they were perfectly capable of accomplishing their mission without help from Apple at all; anything else would be superfluous beyond rational comprehension, one might think.
Anyone who considers smart-phones in their off-the-shelf form to be secure, or to be an appropriate implementation on which to store highly confidential data might perhaps ought have their head examined, but that particular case is just one drop in the bucket; perhaps the ratio of that one drop to the total volume in the bucket could be used as a crude approximation of the technological literacy of society at large. An iPhone that is truly secure could hardly be called an iPhone any longer I would think, and its warranty would certainly be void.
Some time in 2017, a man known as Frank had allegedly bought an older model Apple MacBook for what he claimed was a reasonable price. However, apparently the owner of the MacBook from which he bought the machine had failed to tell him the root password. Apparently he didn't know the password for his regular unprivileged account either. As far as is known, the name Frank is in fact the real first name of this person. The exact date of which this purchase occurred is unknown, but the hacker that Frank consulted to for help with the issues he was facing places the epoch time of the events that then transpired after the initial consultation to be 1491037200, in POSIX time; a Saturday afternoon in the month of April that year, 2017.
The hacker that Frank consulted was known only by the pseudonym sig_9, at least to Frank and anyone else Frank knew. Sig_9 had to repeatedly reiterate to Frank among many other less enlightened people that the name sig_9 has absolutely nothing to do with any type of firearm, and that that interpretation was only accurate in the most vague of ways that could possibly be conceived. Sig_9 doesn't in fact own any type of firearm to speak of. It is probably much more likely that that his name refers to a signal sent by an operating system to a process, than a firearm or anything of that nature. No one knows for sure though, or the possibly many subtle implicit meanings of the name except for sig_9 himself. It is worth noting that sig_9 has many names, though sig_9 is the only person that he knows of that knows any of his other pseudonyms, or that they are in fact the same person as sig_9. For all intents and purposes, his other pseudonyms are different persons entirely, and in some cases, may be truly separate identities in fact as far as anyone is concerned.
It shall be worth noting that sig_9 is not a criminal, unless you take into consideration the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, but according to sig_9, his only crime is that of curiosity. Sig_9 has very strong ethics, which quite succinctly align with the old-skool hacker ethic described by Steven Levy in his book, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, and Dr. K in his comparatively more recent book, The Real Hacker's Handbook.
"Governments and Corporations cannot be trusted to use technology for the benefit of ordinary people," sig_9 would often say.
He also believed that information is power; thus information should be free. A bit of an anarchist maybe, anti-authoritarian for sure, but not quite a criminal. He has often said, "I did it for the lulz." His skills are probably just mediocre, on a very relative scale of course, but what he does, he does not do for money, and certainly doesn't intentionally cause anyone undue harm. That is, he doesn't commit fraud, or identity theft, and wouldn't be considered a hacker according to the common people's definition propagandized by the media.
Sig_9 has some rather unorthodox pastimes that he enjoys; opening telco cans and larger cabinets owned by the local telephone company containing punch down blocks and attaching alligator clips and jumper wires. He also enjoys exploring Time Warner Cable's call center topology, and printing reams of A4 sized QR codes and taping them to walls, mailboxes and inside of subway trains everywhere in Manhattan. He discovered a flaw once which would enable a phreak, social engineer, or one being the duality of both of the former to obtain personal information on TWC customers both present and previous; though after speaking with TWC about this they denied that this was a privacy risk, and ensured him that there was no cause for concern and that such a thing simply wasn't possible. He never used any of the information he obtained from such endeavors to commit crimes, after all, that was not his motive at all.
He was also responsible for a particular Walmart store making changes to its telephone system and policies, restricting the ability to dial out from within the store after calling in from his mobile phone and getting on the P.A. exclaiming, "I'm phreakin'!", and something about how the person who had transferred him to that extension should be employee of the month. He is unsure if similar system and policy changes have been made at other stores, but personally believes that whatever manager implemented those changes should be manager of the decade. Sig_9 also basically knows what changes were made and that they really didn't understand exactly what had really happened with their phone system. He also regularly overrides age restricted purchases in the self-checkout lanes of stores, as well as opening closed self checkout lanes for which other customers are usually appreciative of.
He is old enough to buy anything sold at stores such as CVS or RiteAid, and figures that if the employees are too lazy to come pretend to check his ID card in a timely fashion, that they are certainly too lazy to care about this or even notice; this is especially obvious since he has done things of such nature right in front of store staff and they never bat an eye. He always pays for anything he purchases. These are just a few of the things sig_9 enjoys doing for fun.
Frank on the other hand is a bit of a sketchy fellow, who enjoys the company of other sketchy people and doing sketchy things together which probably aren't always lawful which Frank probably thinks is pretty cool. He also tends to have an unhealthy amount of paranoia, which is often based on very irrational premises. Frank will tell one the most bizarre of things, things that you just have to go along with and pretend to accept while wondering whether what he is telling you is pure delusion, has any basis at all in reality, as seen through some very distorted lens through which Frank views reality; or is just pure bullshit. Sig_9 isn't the type of person that cares whether or not someone believes they have fooled him. In some cases he sees it beneficial to let them go on thinking so, and really has no reason to care in most cases. Frank and Sig_9 don't really have much in common to speak of, other than that they each find each other to be rather interesting people, but for different reasons.
Frank shows sig_9 the just about a decade old MacBook and explains the problem. The person he bought it from, for as he claimed one hundred dollars, had not told him the password to the account, and as a consequence cannot install any software, among other issues. He also claims that the the person he bought it from was a CIA agent.
"They probably want to spy on me and have made it this way to fuck with my head and make me go crazy so that I get myself in trouble!" Frank said to sig_9.
"Yeah, okay, whatever. Do you know the root password?" asked sig_9.
"You need to be root to make changes to other accounts you don't own," sig_9 explained to Frank.
Frank, not knowing what the root account was of course didn't know the password for root. Sig_9 didn't buy this CIA nonsense for a nanosecond, but realized that it was futile to argue about this with Frank; he did find it a
slight bit amusing though.
"This MacBook is running Snow Leopard, so it might be vulnerable to shellshock," sig_9 informed Frank.
"So you can crack it?"
"Probably," sig_9 said to Frank.
After trying a one line shell script, sig_9 was able to get a root shell in bash, confirming that what Frank really was asking to be done could most likely be done in a single line as well, if one doesn't care about the aesthetics of their scripts.
Sig_9 knew that this computer had been acquired through devious and unscrupulous means, as Frank's story just didn't make any sense at all. Sig_9 is also exceptionally well tuned at picking up on the subtlest facets of human behavior and nonverbal communication, especially so when the other person has an IQ of several standard deviations below his own. Sig_9 despises theft, and things of that sort, as these sorts of behaviors are as sharply in contrast with his ethics as the color blue is to yellow, which are actually two of sig_9's favorite colors, especially when they are featured together. He was very briefly distracted by the memory of Easter egg hunts as a kid, before remembering that he really never enjoyed being a child after which he quickly regained his concentration.
Sig_9 begins hammering away at the keyboard, the sound of which was music to his ears. He then put on some actual music to aid his concentration and motivation, but had to tell Frank several times to stop changing it to hip-hop, or whatever they call the garbage they play on so-called hip-hop stations these days, as it tends to make him write bad code. Out of all the so called hip-hop that exists, Frank enjoys best the absolute worst that the genre has offered to date.
What sig_9 wrote was technically about 1500 lines of shell script, give or take a few hundred lines, though it contained the source code for a complete C program stored in several string variables. The actual code used for privilege elevation, and changing passwords was only a few lines; the rest was mostly there for the purpose of compiling this source code to binary, and copying it to a certain place on disk, as well as modifying the first sector of the hard disk so that it would load this program upon boot, rather than the usual bootloader.
"Okay, I think this outta do the trick! Now watch and be amazed," sig_9 said to Frank.
Frank peers at the screen in anticipation. In the home directory was a file named repwn.sh. In a small command line terminal window he ran a command that invoked the script. In an instance the script dissappeared, in fact it had overwritten itself with garbage data and removed all traces of it ever existing. In that small instance of time, a lot more than was obvious had actually been done by the computer.
"Your password is bar," said sig_9, "for both your own account and root, all lowercase characters."
"Bar?" asked Frank, as a slightly confused look came over his face.
"Yes, that is what I said," said sig_9: "not a very strong password, so you should change it. I didn't want to make it anything too hard for you to remember. You can make it whatever you want now."
"How do I do that?"
"Google it," sig_9 said, somewhat frustrated at the fact that there are people that exist that don't know how to use Google.
"What happened to the script you wrote?" asked Frank.
"It deleted itself, since it's no longer needed. I have a copy of my own if I ever need it again."
Sig_9 explained that this password could be bruteforced in just slightly more time than the amount of time that it takes to blink an eye, something that he doesn't do often enough when writing code. He also explained that bruteforcing would be a waste of time anyway, since this glaring and absolutely inexcusable vulnerability exists, and more recent versions of OSX don't support this older model of MacBook. Frank would have to replace bash with a newer version where the exploit has been patched; sig_9 told him to Google that if he was interested in hardening his security.
Of course Frank never changed his password, and never intended to as he simply didn't care about the security issues that sig_9 was rambling on about. All that he was concerned with was that he now had a fully functioning user account with a password that he knew. Sig_9 then left Frank's place. When Frank eventually rebooted the laptop, he was greeted by the following screen, with a blue background and amber text:
BrikBoot 0x5169 Malware Detected.
This program will attempt to remedy this unfortunate situation.
Warning: Do not cycle power. If you do so, this screen will not be shown
again. Do choose options carefully
1) Memory I/O only (no disk writes)
2) Securely wipe hard disk
Enter the key of choice. Any other key will perform option 2, followed by option 1.
Frank called sig_9 in a panic, "What the hell is this, what do I do! What's this 5169 thing?"
Sig_9 began rapid speech, of which Frank only heard small pieces of what he had to say. Among these he heard something about hexadecimal, 5169 being a rather low memory address, something about memory mapped I/O and not rebooting. Frank decided to hit the '1' key. The screen flickered before colored bands and lines corrupted and obscured the screen. Nothing else happened after that so he decided to reboot after waiting a few minutes; nothing happened. It was as if the machine was dead.
"I told you not to reboot," said sig_9 with a slight chuckle in his voice.
"But I thought that option one was only going to write to memory and not touch the disk?!"
"That's exactly what it did," said sig_9, "however it may have corrupted the firmware."
"I can remove the hard disk and install it in another machine to attempt recovering data from it though," he ensured Frank.
Sig_9 came over to Frank's place with another laptop, and installed the hard drive in that machine.
"Turn it on," said Frank.
"Are you really sure that's what you want, I can try to boot a live operating system and recover data if you want?" sig_9 asked of Frank, "much less risky."
"No, that will take too damn long. It said that if I rebooted that this screen wouldn't appear again. That's probably what I should have done in the first place dammit!" said Frank.
"Well, okay, if that's really what you want. But you have to press the power button yourself, I can't be held responsible for whatever consequences come."
Frank pressed the power button on the laptop. A screen appeared that said that it was scrubbing the file system and that everything would be done and okay in 42 minutes. In fact 42 minutes was just enough time to overwrite the entire hard drive, though the friendly looking screen didn't mention this fact. Of course after waiting for this to complete, the machine wouldn't boot OSX, because OSX no longer existed on the disk.
"Now do you want me to try it my way?" asked sig_9.
"Yeah, it doesn't seem like there's any other option now," Frank told sig_9 in a bummed out tone.
Sig_9 booted Kali Linux from a USB flash drive. He examined the contents of the disk using the xxd tool and showed Frank the output, which consisted of the the value 0x2BADF001, followed by garbage data which was padded out with line feeds and tab characters among other unusual ASCII codes so that it was word aligned on a 4 byte boundary. When viewed as ASCII text with just the right column width showed the Eye of Providence in eerie ASCII art; this pattern was repeated over every logical block of the disk.
"What is this number at the beginning, before that creepy image?" asked Frank, "is that supposed to say, ... too bad fool!?"
"No," sig_9 told Frank, "what you should probably be more interested in, is what is the significance of the value 01F0AD2B."
A blank look of utter confusion flashed across Frank's face, and remained for quite some time, gradually turning into a more puzzled expression suggesting Frank was in deep thought about what in the world had happened and what was really
going on, and whether or not sig_9 was playing some sort of weird mind tricks on him.
Sig_9 told Frank that he would have to get a new laptop, that he had done all he can do. Frank thanked sig_9 for spending so much time helping him, and told him that it wasn't that big of a deal since he didn't pay much for the laptop anyway;
though he did remark that it "really sucked" that he had lost all the pictures and other files he had on the laptop.
Sig_9 told him to remember that the only reason he spent so much time on this was that because he enjoyed doing it, not because he felt obligated to help, though he does enjoy helping people when he can. Hopefully Frank learned something from this experience, but sig_9 doubts that he did, which he thought was unfortunate. He also advised Frank not to buy his next computer from a CIA agent, since obviously as can be seen, the CIA uses very insecure computers, and to pay more attention to detail next time he is in a strange situation involving a computer.
Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â© 2016 IRQ42 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
On the Coming Technological Singularity; A Summary and Commentary on Machine Sentience
In The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era (Vinge, 1993), Vernor Vinge describes what exactly the technological singularity is, or would be if or when it were to occur. He claims that there could possibly be several paths toward the singularity, possibly occurring simultaneously. Vinge presents several means by which sentient machines may emerge. Vinge believes that the creation of superhuman intelligence will occur at some time between the years 2005 and 2030 based on the trend of technological progression in the last few decades.
Vinge argues that if science could produce machines capable of human like intellectual capability, that there would be a runaway acceleration in the computational capability of the successors of these machines. These machines would be capable of designing machines of even greater intellectual capability. Vinge argues in his work that this event will be a change comparable in magnitude to the evolution of human life on Earth from the lower animals that came before us. He hypothesizes several paths toward the singularity.
Vinge argues that if machines were to be created with intelligence equivalent to, or greater than that of the human mind that we would quickly see machines of even more advanced intelligence emerge, as these machines would be capable of designing ever more superior creations than themselves. Vinge also touches on the possibility that large computer networks and their users could give rise to superhuman intelligence, acting as a discrete intelligent entity, being so highly interconnected.
Another path toward the technological singularity might be intelligence amplification, or IA. Vinge claims that this is likely the easier path to achieving super-humanity than the development of purely machine based strong artificial intelligence. Augmenting our own human capabilities with machine capabilities would give us an intellectual advantage. The human-machine symbiotic relationship would be superior in capability than either human intelligence on its own or current artificial intelligence, which could be regarded as weak AI. This increase in capability could and probably will eventually lead to the development of strong artificial intelligence.
Vinge describes the singularity as an event as different from our human past as humans are from the lower animals. He makes an analogy to biological evolution. Animals can adapt no faster than the forces of natural selection can cause these adaptations. The singularity would lead to entities capable of modifying themselves, thus progressing at a far greater rate than anything we've seen before, essentially short-circuiting the process of evolution via natural selection. What the world would be like, especially to us humans would be nearly impossible to predict, and it cannot be said with certainty what impact this event could have on our lives and the human condition. Vinge does mention in his paper that this event will likely lead to technological unemployment, as well as the possible extinction of the human race in the most extreme of cases.
Vinge also considers the possible case of the singularity never in fact coming to fruition, due to some technical or physical barrier slowing the growth of technological advancement, until it reaches a peak equilibrium point at which further advancements and complexity of technology cannot be sustained at the current rate of growth. In this scenario we might see exponential growth for decades until we hit this technical barrier, after which the rate of growth may fall toward something with more resemblance to a logarithmic function in the temporal domain that this phenomena begins to take hold.
Vinge considers whether the singularity could possibly be avoided, or prevented from happening. He argues that if the singularity is possible, it will inevitably occur. He claims that not even if we were to come to understand the coming singularity as a threat to ourselves and attempt to take measures to prevent it, that progress toward this event would still continue to occur. He seems to imply that if a technological singularity is in fact a possibility, that once we have passed the event horizon there would be no turning back.
I also have my own views and opinions on the singularity event. These are based on the research I have done reading Vinge's work, as well as my own observations of technological progression in the world. I will proceed to share some of my own opinions and views on the subject.
Vinge mentions in his paper that intelligent properties could emerge out of large computer networks, consisting of networked machines and their users. This implies that large computer networks such as the Internet may not be that dissimilar to something resembling a brain or neural network; such computer networks are highly interconnected and contain numerous feedback loops which are initialized by the interactions between humans and networks of machines. There also quite possibly exists a subset of interactions exclusively between networked machines without human interaction as software complexity
grows, as well as the increasing ubiquity of big data.
The causal relationship of the interactions between the human-machine interface, and the actions of both humans and machines which no doubt have been influenced by said interactions drive this feedback loop. An easily realized example of such a feedback loop is that of the message loop of instant messaging, and networked chat such as IRC. In some ways the discrete minds of many have been joined, giving rise to a larger abstract entity with capabilities exceeding that of any one individual alone.
The amount of memory and storage available to computing machines, as well as execution speed has grown by orders of magnitude in just a few decades. A cheap prepaid mobile phone of today has greater hardware capability than the large mainframes many decades ago. The number of computing machines in existence has also increased by a similar magnitude, and I do not see any signs of this trend slowing, especially considering the Internet of Things. We have so many devices connected to networks, interacting in an increasing number of new ways, and innovations continue to be made in this area.
It is my view that the singularity will inevitably occur. I also feel that the processes leading to this event are already underway. It is difficult to figure exactly what point we currently lie on this function of progression. I conjecture that the event horizon has already been passed, but that it would be difficult to predict with much certainty how close we are to the singularity. This uncertainty would probably persist all the way up to the point that things change extremely drastically in a very short time period, that is the singularity event itself. Even then, it may be difficult for us to comprehend just exactly what has or is occurring, but it will certainly mark the beginning of a new eon in Earth's history.
We will certainly see dramatic technological unemployment as have already seen the beginning of this. Machines will be able to perform an ever increasing number of jobs far more efficiently than humans can. Even advanced jobs in finance and speculative investing could be replaced by machines with the capability of analyzing trends and crunching data, without human error. Academia will most likely be the last thing left.
A machine executing complex algorithms and preprogrammed rules could appear sentient while having no actual understanding of the data it is processing; it would still be an input/output system acting in a feed-forward fashion. This raises philosophical questions about what exactly consciousness, or sentience really is. It has recently been theorized that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon arising from highly interconnected systems with a high degree of integration.
An experience, or qualia is an abstraction of integrated information, consisting of highly integrated states that cannot be reduced to their component parts. These systems are not acting strictly as input/output systems, rather a new phenomenon emerges from the highly integrated configuration, in which each of these unique integrated configurations
is a unique experience. That is, the integrated configuration is the experience, rather than the signals passing through the network.
Thus to say, I do not think we have yet seen true sentience, though it is easy to imagine that a network as highly interconnected as the Internet could become so highly integrated that some form of consciousness could emerge from it. Whether this consciousness would resemble anything like human consciousness is unknown, and I posit that resemblance to human consciousness need not be a requirement.
In any case, the thoughts of this conscious network would bear no resemblance to the information traveling between nodes as electrical signals or pulses of light, just as we are not aware of the action potentials of the neurons in our brains. I also posit that true self awareness is not a requirement for intelligent machines, or for the singularity to occur, since intelligence and self awareness are exclusive concepts. However, it is probably possible, and thus will most likely occur at some point in the future.
It has recently been hypothesized that consciousness may emerge from fundamental fields existing in highly integrated configurations, thus unifying the information theory of consciousness with physics. This implies that consciousness may not be unique to biological substrates, such as animal brains, but could emerge from other substrates as well. There most likely will at some point during or after the singularity that truly self aware, machine based, non-biological life arises. It may be difficult to constrain the singularity to a specific time in history when it occurs, despite the implication of the word singularity.
The Turing test was developed by Alan Turing, considered by many to be The Father of Computer Science. Turing describes a method of testing whether or not a machine is capable of displaying behavior indistinguishable from that of a human in his paper, Computing Machinery and Intelligence (Turing, 1950). In order to pass the Turing test the machine must display human like intelligence and behavioral traits, and fool a human interrogator into believing that they are interacting with a human subject when in fact, they are interacting with a machine. This does not imply that the machine is actually capable of thought, only that it convincingly appears to be.
On June 7, 2014 a Russian chatter bot named Eugene Goostman Convinced 33 percent of the human judges at a contest held at the Royal Society London that it was human. It does certainly appear that this machine passed the Turing test. In his 1950 paper Turing claims a machine passes the test if it is able to play the Imitation Game well enough that the average interrogator has 70 percent or less chance of correctly identifying it as human or machine after five minutes of questioning.
I feel that this may not be as significant as it may seem; this does not imply that the machine is truly intelligent on a human level or possesses anything close to strong AI. It is simply programmed in such a way that it is effective enough at fooling humans with human-like conversational ability. It is most likely lacking in other facets of intelligence, excelling at this one task, while lacking in other abilities we would consider requirements for human like intelligence.
However, I do feel that this is quite significant in another way, as it is a signal that we will see machines of even more superior capability, most likely in the near future. These machines will eventually match our intellectual capability, even replacing us in tasks that they will simply be able to outperform us at, effectually rendering humans obsolete in many fields.
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