Be careful what you wish for.

Mitch Wagner, Executive Editor, Light Reading

August 25, 2015

3 Min Read
'Silence Like Diamonds' Concludes

The thrilling conclusion of "Silence Like Diamonds," Light Reading's original science fiction story, is online: Silence Like Diamonds – Finale: When in Rome.

Or start at the beginning: Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 1: Family Business

And once you're done, come back here and we'll talk about some of the technology issues of "Silence Like Diamonds."

Now we know the cause of our heroes' problems. NameItCorp was just following its programming -- too literally.

This is an old idea in science fiction. The 1947 story "With Folded Hands... " by Jack Williamson, tells the story of robots called Humanoids which threaten whole worlds just by literally following their Prime Directive, "to serve and obey and guard men from harm." The Humanoids work for free in every human job, and forbid humans from doing anything that might be dangerous. Humans who resist the Prime Directive are taken away and lobotomized, so they can live happily in the new world. The title refers to the only activity that the Humanoids permit real humans: to sit at home with folded hands.

Figure 1: "With Folded Hands... "

Earlier, Isaac Asimov introduced his Three Laws of Robotics in 1942. Paraphrased and abbreviated, they say robots have to protect humans, obey humans and protect themselves -- in that order. Simple and inarguable, and yet Asimov spent another 50 years turning out stories in which robots malfunctioned, often fatally to humans, through overly literal interpretation of those three laws.

Figure 2: "I, Robot"

Older examples: "The Monkey's Paw," about a magical artifact that grants its owners three wishes, and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," based on a 1797 poem and most well-known today as a cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse.

Artificial intelligence lifts these kinds of stories from the realm of fantasy, because computers have a tendency to follow instructions literally, as anybody who's ever debugged code can tell you. AI researcher Stuart Russell describes the problem in this video lecture on YouTube. Cory Doctorow, a blogger, journalist, political activist and science fiction writer has more.

Find out more about the New IP on Light Reading's The New IP Channel.

Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk take these and other threats of AI seriously enough to donate $7 million to research dedicated to making AI safer.

For a few more words on "Silence Like Diamonds," including further discussion of the implications of breaking encryption and an explanation of the title, visit author John Barnes's blog.

We hope you enjoyed this experiment on Light Reading as much as we enjoyed bringing it to you.


— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

Executive Editor, Light Reading

San Diego-based Mitch Wagner is many things. As well as being "our guy" on the West Coast (of the US, not Scotland, or anywhere else with indifferent meteorological conditions), he's a husband (to his wife), dissatisfied Democrat, American (so he could be President some day), nonobservant Jew, and science fiction fan. Not necessarily in that order.

He's also one half of a special duo, along with Minnie, who is the co-habitor of the West Coast Bureau and Light Reading's primary chewer of sticks, though she is not the only one on the team who regularly munches on bark.

Wagner, whose previous positions include Editor-in-Chief at Internet Evolution and Executive Editor at InformationWeek, will be responsible for tracking and reporting on developments in Silicon Valley and other US West Coast hotspots of communications technology innovation.

Beats: Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), IP networking, and colored foods (such as 'green rice').

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