News


From the editor's desk: Where monsters, viruses and technology meet

25 November 2020 News

I clearly remember the moment it really sank in that the world as we know it has become almost unrecognisable from a year ago. It would be hard not to remember really, because it happened only two days prior to me writing this. Which is not to say it previously escaped my notice that COVID-19 has devastated almost every aspect of our lives, and our livelihoods: I know people who have had it, and fortunately recovered. I’ve been following the news avidly, waiting for the announcement of a vaccine. I haven’t seen any of my family since lockdown started, because I’m so worried I might unwittingly have it and pass it on to them.


Brett van den Bosch.

The moment I refer to was seemingly innocuous. I belatedly switched on the TV in the hope of catching the end of the Formula 1 race in Turkey, to see if Lewis Hamilton had managed to clinch the 2020 drivers’ championship – it was pretty much a foregone conclusion, but I still had to know. As expected, I saw him leaping into the waiting arms of his pit crew in celebration, so I began to step away from the TV before something started to nag at the back of my mind. I stopped, turned around, and waited a couple of seconds for my ‘spidey senses’ to fire up. The first things I realised were superficial: he looked too young, he didn’t have this year’s hairdo, and he was wearing the wrong colour overalls. Then I realised that what had struck me was that people weren’t social distancing, or wearing masks. That was the moment I knew I’d truly become acclimatised to the ‘new normal’.

Many believe that artificial intelligence (AI) will unlock the door to more effective ways for humanity to conquer, or at least better cope with, catastrophes in the future. And catastrophes there will undoubtedly be: the Spanish flu of 1918 is considered to be the last true pandemic, but we’ve had near misses in the recent past with the likes of bird flu, Ebola and MERS. Oh, and of course SARS, which is curiously the name of both a virus and our state tax collector (as if there’s any difference). There can be little doubt that climate change is also going to upset our precarious existence, and probably sooner than most of us realise.

The utility monster

I can’t imagine anyone ignoring the three words above, but I’ve put them in bold just in case. I don’t want to spoil the plot, so if you’ve got to this point you simply have to read this article by the BBC technology journalist Richard Fisher: www.dataweek.co.za/*nov20-digimind1. If things like utility monsters and deontological violations tickle your fancy, you can delve further into the main source of Fisher’s research at www.dataweek.co.za/*nov20-digimind2 (be warned, it’s a whitepaper that is very long, and very dry).

Having grown up fascinated by the cerebral sort of science fiction written by the likes of Isaac Asimov and George Orwell, more than stuff like Star Wars, I’ve always been fascinated by this idea of… not artificial intelligence, so much as artificial consciousness. It puts me in mind of the late, great physicist Richard Feynman (who worked on the Manhattan Project and the formulation of quantum mechanics), who famously said in a 1983 documentary series, “it’s fun to imagine.”

Perhaps we’ll never create something that can truly supersede humankind. After all, it is very unlikely. But then it was very unlikely that we would ever land a man on the moon, or find evidence of water on Mars, or send a Tesla Roadster into outer space, or witness a very orange, “very stable genius” “covfefe” his way into America’s White House (and soon to be dragged out, kicking and screaming, by the look of things).

If the idea of an artificial consciousness still sounds too far-fetched, consider for a moment that a microscopic virus, which exists somewhere between what we consider ‘life’ and a simple organic structure, has nevertheless managed to existentially upend the most advanced lifeform that we are aware of ever having existed: us.


Credit(s)



Share this article:
Share via emailShare via LinkedInPrint this page

Further reading:

On-the-ground sales support for South African Farnell customers
25 November 2020, EBV Electrolink , News
Farnell, an Avnet company and global distributor of electronic components, products and solutions, has enhanced its service to customers in South Africa through a new partnership with sister company EBV, ...

Read more...
Better than Moore: A new way to measure semiconductor progress
25 November 2020 , News
One of the most famous maxims in technology is, of course, Moore’s Law. For more than 55 years, the ‘Law’ has described and predicted the shrinkage of transistors, as denoted by a set of roughly biennial ...

Read more...
Technology trends that will shape 2021
25 November 2020 , News
In preparing to turn the corner on one of the most tumultuous years we have ever seen, 2021 will require that organisations put a finger on what will stimulate market responses and what the fabric of ...

Read more...
Altron appoints new company secretary
25 November 2020, Altron Arrow , News
Nicole Morgan has been appointed as company secretary of Altron with effect from 1 January 2021. An admitted attorney of the High Court with 11 years of corporate law and company secretarial experience, ...

Read more...
Technical high school gets new multimedia centre for 100% pass rate
25 November 2020 , News
The MTN SA Foundation continues to bring digital education closer to SA’s youth with the recent handover of a state-of-the-art multimedia centre to a deserving Bokgoni Technical High School in Atteridgeville, ...

Read more...
Unrealistic deadlines hamper independent power producers
25 November 2020 , News
The Independent Power Producers Programme Office (IPPPO), which is run by the South African Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), aims to procure 2000 megawatts of electricity in its latest ...

Read more...
Buy a Fluke, get one free
28 October 2020, Comtest , News
Comtest, Fluke’s official South African importer, is offering one free Fluke for every Fluke purchased from any South African-based, authorised Fluke dealer. Fluke is a world leader in the manufacture, ...

Read more...
Online Ohm’s law calculator from Mouser
28 October 2020 , News
The famous Ohm’s law states that the current flowing through a circuit is proportional to the voltage applied across both points. Mouser Electronics’ online Ohm’s law calculator saves engineers time by ...

Read more...
Clearing the Static: ESD training and compliance
25 November 2020, Actum Group , News
According to Desco Industries, electrostatic discharge (ESD) can change the electrical characteristics of a semiconductor device, degrading or destroying it entirely. ESD could also potentially damage ...

Read more...
SA project receives international energy award
25 November 2020 , News
South Africa’s largest energy efficiency initiative, the SA Industrial Energy Efficiency Project, has won the highest international accolade for an energy programme – the International Energy Project ...

Read more...