Being interviewed live on national radio is an interesting experience.
It's not so bad when you're in a studio face to face with the
interviewer. Then there's a proper sense of occasion, of being there
for a purpose, something to rise to.
But being interviewed by telephone is an altogether different and
more risky proposition. Why risky? Let me set the scene. You've agreed
to be interviewed by a national radio station that has, hitherto, never
blipped onto your cultural radar. The producer called and asked if you
would be able to comment, in the science slot of the breakfast show,
about a recent newspaper article listing the top 10 reasons that
mankind could be wiped out this century1. In particular the
one that predicts mankind will, within 40 years, build super-intelligent robots who promptly (and
ungratefully) enslave their creators. Quickly passing over your
observation that said producer seems surprisingly laid back, you
say to yourself - can't be so bad - they have a science slot. And of
course you would be grateful for the opportunity to explain why this
particular prediction is laughably absurd.
You rise early the following morning, after checking the news piece
and giving some thought to how you can counter this particular piece of
futurology. (Which turns out to be based on the mistaken assumption
that because processing power is doubling roughly every 2
years, then robot intelligence is doing the same. Having lots of raw
material doesn't mean you can make a thing; you also need the design.)
With 20 minutes to spare you find the radio station on the Interweb
and click the listen now button. The presenter starts to talk about
robots-taking-over-the-world and invites a phone in. He wants listeners
to phone with mad robot inventions and introduce them with a robot
voice. Hmmm. At this point you begin to realise that the science slot
doesn't have quite the level of gravitas that you might have hoped
Then the phone rings. Butterflies. Ok, normal. It's the laid back
producer again. After a few minutes listening to the radio on the phone
you hear yourself being introduced and you're on. This bit is always
weird. You're on the phone with a few hundred thousand people on the
other end. Just focus. It's only a conversation with some guy.
Nevermind that he's called Xane. Or the fact that he just egregiously misquoted the article by inserting the words 'taking-over-the-world'
between 'probability of super-intelligent robots' and 'high'.
The first couple of questions are kind of ok. More or less what you
expected. You carefully explain that no, in your opinion it's extremely
unlikely that we will build robots with super-human intelligence in the
next 40 years and, even if we did, why should they be evil and take over the world (or more to the point
why would we make them evil). Then some relatively innocuous questions:
What is the most powerful robot in the world - is it Asimo? Er no, Asimo is actually remotely controlled by a team of
6. What about that freaky monkey robot with the robot arm? Well, that's
not so much a robot as work to improve neural electronic interfaces
to help people with smart prostheses.
Then just when you think it's all over you get the inevitable mad-question-at-the-end.
Q. Yes, but if robots did take over the world, what would we call
them? A. I really don't think robots are going to take over the world.
Q. (More insistently this time) Yes, but what if they did. What would
we call them? And so on until you make a fool of yourself on the radio by wearily saying 'evil robot master' or somesuch nonsense, thus
eliciting the triumphalist response from Xane and
his co-presenter Aha! See, the expert says so. Robots really
are going to take over the world.