Dynames Productions Blog

A blog to showcase my creative and technical work. Talk about what I like to talk about.


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Artificial Intelligence & Society

It has been a while since I did one of these posts. But recently due to the influx of news on artificial intelligence (AI), it got me thinking about how it may affect society. Before we start here, let it be known that I’m not a ‘Luddite’, in fact I have quite a bit of educational background in Computer Science and Database Administration. However the point of the concerns I raise here are to get you the readers thinking and share any solutions you may have found or come up with. Let’s start.

What is an AI?

For those who don’t know what an AI really is, here is a very basic run down. AI is essentially a program built on mathematical algorithms that are meant to emulate human thinking and to a lesser degree, creativity. When we say emulate human thinking, we mean that it should be able to absorb the knowledge that is fed to it, in the case of AI, it can be stored in a database ready for quick access by the AI itself. Meaning as long as storage is available, it can absorb limitless information, at least far more than a human could in one second. Creativity is something that is possible with AIs, but not to the extent that the imagination humans possess due to the current limitations of the mathematical algorithms and hardware. So all in all, true AI is meant to be like a human brain without the limitations of one.

Research into this has been conducted for years now, but it was never brought to the attention of the general public as much as it has been now. In recent years, AI research has advanced significantly. While those looking to the future with glee and technological interest will probably love it, there are concerns that are no doubt raised by this. Below I will outline and discuss some of these concerns.

Society and jobs

The state of jobs around the world varies based on country, economic and societal structure. The health of the economy also contributes. Some places are doing great, some not so good. The places not doing so well are some times unfortunately left alone by their own government in the hopes things will improve naturally. Sadly this is never the case, the economy doesn’t naturally “fix” itself. People must help do that by stimulating it through spending, earning, buying goods and drive supply and demand.

For that to happen, jobs must be plentiful. Where does AI come into this? AI has the potential of replacing humans in several roles currently in place. This is something that may not happen for at least another 20, 30 or even 50 years, but the potential is there.

Let’s take present world for example. Remember all those jobs in factories within the automotive industry? Yeah robots have come and taken over things like car assembly. Before we would need people for that, but not anymore. These robots aren’t necessarily true AI as they are programmed to do one specific task, but the idea of automation coupled with AI should give you an idea of how powerful and destructive that can be if scripted robots are already able to do more than an average humans can.

Society is a fragile concept that is already shaking from terrorism, and the various imperfections plaguing it. Jobs are an essential component to keep the economy, and by effect society going. If jobs were to be taken over and automated by AI, imagine the type of effect that would have on the middle and poor class. The rich maybe able to ride the automation out without much worry, but not the middle and poor class.

Concerns with AI Job takeover

The thinking behind AI right now is that, any job that can be automated should be automated. Any job requiring tactical thinking over creative thinking. AI may have some very minor capabilities for creative thinking, they are just no where near the level of humans in that department as of now. So what does that mean?

Most minimum wage jobs are at risk of being replaced by AI. Any job that has repetitive tasks can be, and will most likely be replaced. Jobs like:

  • Retail store clerk (Sales associate, floor associate, cashier, etc.)
  • Waiters
  • Fast Food workers (that are below the managerial level)
  • Customer Service Representatives
  • Financial Advisors and Planners (Investment advisors may also be at risk in the future)
  • Administrative Assistants
  • Virtual Assistants
  • Any position below a manager’s level and one that doesn’t require much face to face and creativity in customer service
  • and more…

Above I have named just a few jobs. All of them aren’t necessarily minimum wage, but for some of the jobs mentioned, there is already software that can do parts of it. Take accounting for example. Before Accountants had bookkeeping as part of their responsibilities, some places they still do. But now there is software out there like QuickBooks to help you do that. Accountants then can focus on the other aspects of the job while overseeing the software’s results.

Unlike humans, a machine never needs to rest, take breaks to eat, drink water, sleep, go on vacation, ask for a raise or anything of that sort. AI would essentially be the model employee putting humans at a great disadvantage for jobs at a high risk of automation.

Are you in a job you are worried about being automated? Find out here just how much of a risk your job is at: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-34066941

The link above is presented from 2015, so it’s quite old but still relevant. If anything, some of those values will most likely have increased by now.

We already see the effects of this in retail and fast food outside of the automotive industry. Let’s look at the larger grocery stores, they have both humans and self-checkout right now. But how long will the human element continue, it’s quite clear that the self-checkouts will take over in the future by slowly increasing their quantity over their human counterparts.

Another example would be McDonalds. They have introduced the self-order kiosks for a while now. This eliminates the need for so many cashiers as the kiosk can operate on less money, and would not need to rest. The only time they can be costly is perhaps when installing, and a major maintenance or a patch job is needed.

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There is even an AI robot serving drinks in the Robots Bar and Lounge in Ilmenau, eastern Germany!

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Check out this daily mail article for more information on Carl the Bartender Robot: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2379966/Carl-robot-bartender-pours-drinks-customers-German-bar.html

No, this does not mean that every bartender is going to be replaced. What this should tell you is of the potential in robots, AI and automation for these jobs. AI still has a long way to go however before they can get around to replacing bartenders due to the creativity involved in mixing various drinks all the while adding their own little touches to it.

But lets take a look at another job, teaching assistant. That job has many aspects to it, some are repetitive tasks, while others are more intellectual in nature. Well there is a professor who built an AI teaching assistant to help answer student questions using existing technology such as IBM Watson. You can read about it here: http://www.businessinsider.com/a-professor-built-an-ai-teaching-assistant-for-his-courses-and-it-could-shape-the-future-of-education-2017-3

There have even been tests into robots in an official educational setting. For example, there was one in which an AI powered robot was given the lead to teach a class of university students. We are not talking elementary kids, but adults in a university level education. That should say something about the technology, its abilities and the advances people are looking to make with it.

But the most prominent use of AI that I have come across is how some banks in Japan have already started switching over to as human free as possible. Keep in mind though that this is for roles that don’t require much creative thinking and are based around set tasks such as simple bank transactions, getting news on the latest developments in the financial world and banking product information as well as signing up for them. There has also been news of a Japanese Insurance firm replacing some workers with AI. That can be found here: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/05/japanese-company-replaces-office-workers-artificial-intelligence-ai-fukoku-mutual-life-insurance

Now, where do concerns come into this exactly?

Below I have listed out some in point format for easier reading:

  • If AI has the potential to replace humans, even to the level of CEO as Alibaba’s founder puts it, then what use will there be for humans in the job world? Only creative endeavors may remain, unless AIs develop even beyond human limitations.
  • If minimum wage jobs are looking to be completely automated and replaced with robots, what will students looking for part time work to help fuel and control their expenses during studying do? Most decent jobs nowdays require a Bachelor’s even for entry level.
  • The technological aspect of the market will grow with AI, but not everyone is suited to tech jobs. What will happen to those left out of a job?
  • Is society prepared for such a huge change? We are talking about something like another industrial era here.
  • If people are displaced from jobs with little to no sign of being able to once again enter the workforce, what will the government do about them? How will it make sure that there is no growing tensions between the various classes (rich, middle, poor)?
  • If AI has the potential to be as smart as it is said to be, then there may come a day where humans are put out of work completely. People talk about the convenience factor more often than not, but what convenience is there if it can’t be afforded?
  • Will societies and governments react too late to these changes?

Those are some of my concerns. Now I’m not saying I have the answer to all of the questions posed above, but I do have some ideas to get started. Elon Musk has always been a believer of a set universal income, in which you get money from the government to help maintain a certain standard of living. If you earn anything else, that would be extra income then. In a sense it could be like welfare, but it maybe charged at the same tax level as normal income. This, or something similar is necessary if we are to look into a future where AIs do all the work and humans just kick back.

Another alternative is that while keeping and maintaining most career roles we have today, we supplement them with AI aid. So humans no longer have to engage in the repetitive tasks of their jobs, but instead can focus more on the intellectual, creative and innovative aspects of it. Of course if your jobs is all about repetition, then you are pretty much screwed. However there have been initiatives to fight back the automation and keep people employed. So there is that to consider.

At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, how much are you willing to work with an AI?

Are you going to be happy consuming food produced by robotic arms all coded to create the same flavors?

Personally I’m not comfortable with the idea of eating the food produced down to specifications by robots. There is something special about eating food produced by human hands as everyone makes it differently. I can work with AI if it is there to supplement the job, but if it is there to do the job, things can become more difficult. I personally find something disturbing about talking to an AI robot day in and day out. Imagine going to the bank and interacting with an AI to get financial advice. Just imagine talking to that monitor that is coded to respond based on logic and facts. The bit about it being very logical and factual may sound great as there is little room for error in judgement that way, but then what about people whose circumstances are special and require a more emotionally understanding individual?

That connection between human social interaction can never be fully replicated by robots or AI.

Let’s wrap this up

Honestly, what I have said here isn’t even scratching the surface of the issues that are posed with the advent of AI and their potential implementation on a mass level. Here is an interesting article concerning Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking and their rather cautious outlook for AI. It maybe a good read for you: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2907069/Don-t-let-AI-jobs-kill-Stephen-Hawking-Elon-Musk-sign-open-letter-warning-robot-uprising.html

Does this mean that we should all fear, and hate AI and robots? No, they can be very beneficial if implemented properly to work alongside humans. But if they are implemented with the intention of improving, and at one point in the future putting most if not all of humans out of a job, then we damn well better be prepared for that day. Because if we aren’t, humans may have another revolution, or a war on their hands within their own societies.

What are your thoughts on artificial intelligence and its potential effects for the future on society?

Thanks for reading!

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The Creed of the Assassin’s – Recommendations

Hey everyone,

Been a while since I posted here. In between that time, I managed to play all the main Assassin’s Creed games released for the PS3. So here are my brief thoughts on each as well as ranking (from most recommended to least). If you are only interested in the rankings, please skip to the end of this post.

Games Thoughts:

Assassin’s Creed –

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An okay game. The main issue this game suffers from is its repetition and lack of variation in gameplay. However it did introduce us to the satisfying feeling of being a ninja type assassin while posing some interesting philosophical questions along the way.

The game definitely has many issues that makes it a drag to play at times, but it is still worth a shot for this is what started the whole AC universe.

 

Assassin’s Creed II –

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A brilliant follow up that expands the gameplay in meaningful and fun ways. This game seems to rectify the issues of repetition with the original and adds on loads of things to do.

The main character Ezio is also a step up from Altair. The story seems to go for a more personal approach this time versus the philosophical one it had with the original. You also get to see some great character development for Ezio as you progress in the story.

New mechanics introduced definitely help vary up the gameplay as well as add more value to the fun. But that is not to say that the game does not have any flaws. In fact sometimes there are forced mini-games that really help bring the fun to a grinding halt. The mini-games can be infuriating to play at times due to the weak control scheme (although controls are far more responsive and less “floaty” than the original).

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood –

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An okay follow up to the second game in my opinion. It follows Ezio’s adventures again, but this time the game feels too padded. The whole series has this issue where they try to add in as much padding as possible to extend gameplay time, but this one just seemed to take it to the max. That’s the feeling I got when I was playing it anyways.

There are several features that return with few minor new ones. Mechanically it is the same as the second one, which does sometimes drown out the fun as you will be battling with controls at times (unlike their new controls from AC III and on-wards). The story just wasn’t as enthralling to play through unlike AC II. At the beginning it is very interesting, but then the story just begins to lose my interest due to the slow pacing and sometimes padded missions that make me more tired when playing.

But it was still a nice minor advancement in the series and for Ezio’s story as well.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations –

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The last game in the Ezio trilogy and quite a different AC experience in comparison to the ones before. The experience is different because we get to play as Ezio and Altair during various sequences of the game. Ezio is still the main protagonist, but Altair has an integral role to the story and an expansion of his character. On top of that, we get more explanation into the admittedly convoluted backstory of the precursor race and what not.

Mechanically this game is much the same as Brotherhood due to it only having one year in development. Minor improvements to the graphics and controls help this game shine above its predecessors. Not to mention, this game concludes Ezio’s journey as an assassin and you the player get the sense that Ezio deserves to finally get his closure.

Assassin’s Creed III –

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This game is the one game that really changed up the gameplay for good. The control scheme was simplified, the parkouring was improved and the graphics simply go through the roof in comparison to Revelations.

The story of this game, while not as focused around Assassins versus Templars when compared to the previous entries, it is still a worthy game to play through. The story takes place in the American Colonial Revolution and has you play as an Aboriginal protagonist.

Many people complained about him being a plain and boring character, but in my opinion he is just as interesting character as Ezio if not more so. I say that because of his Aboriginal heritage. It is nice to see a character come from such a background, not to mention he gave up so much and sacrificed so much in his fight, but in the end he was left with so little (in some cases, nothing at all).

He is also a very ideologically driven character with a sense of naivety due to his inexperience and youth. The discussions he has with other characteres on more philosophical topics about Templars really helps stand him apart from the other protagonists so far. The struggle, the sacrifices and the ideological thinking really helps solidify him as an interesting character in my book.

The game also introduced ship combat, although this was extremely poor due to its sloppy mechanics and controls. These sections even got frustrating at times. But unlike the previous AC games, this one didn’t have any annoying mini-games and was a blast to play through all the way. I was always curious what was going to happen next and seeing the ending made me completely sympathize for Connor. The game also gives us more to do in the present time story-line and concludes Desmond’s story arc.

A worthy addition that helps boost my love for this series.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag –

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The Pirate’s Caribbean game as many like to refer to it. The pirate game that Disney could never release. This was the second game I played in the series (I played Revelations first and then this one. After that I decided to get the whole series on the PS3). This game is what really sold me on Assassin’s Creed. Unlike AC III, the ship combat in this is fantastic. The development team really improved the gameplay on all aspects which made this one only even more fun to play through.

The story is not as much of an Assassins versus Templars story as much as it is Edward’s journey from being a money loving pirate to a responsible assassin. I would even argue that the character development in this one is far better than the one in Ezio’s trilogy. You can actually tell the development in his character apart, where as with Ezio’s trilogy, it wasn’t as evident due to his constant playboy and easy going nature. The psychological sections for Edward’s journey were fascinating to play through as we delved deep into the symbolism of his experiences and those around him.

Piloting your own ship as well as creating your own army was very fun. The only negative for this game would be the grind you have to go through to upgrade your ship sometimes. It can get very repetitive, and eventually boring to do. But it will be worth it in the end as you can destroy nearly any ship with ease. It will make that once puny boat you called “Jackdaw” turn into a tank.

As I mentioned before, it takes a step away from the traditional Assassin’s versus Templars just like AC III. But that’s not to say that you don’t kill Templars, trust me there is plenty of that once you decide to commit to the brotherhood. But what really fascinated me was a third party in this game that acts as an ally and an enemy for a short while before meeting your blade. There is still a magical device involved to help progress the precursor story, but this also ties into the present time story that is quite interesting to play through on its own.

If you love ship combat and the AC combat then this will go hand in hand for you. The mix and balance of the two is phenomenal. You are also given several mini-missions to do along the way to actually help better your ship and your gear. I definitely recommend this to any player even if you haven’t played any previous AC games.

Assassin’s Creed: Rogue –

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This one is quite a unique entry in the franchise. In this game, you actually get to experience both sides of the coin, the Assassins and the Templars. This game carries over many mechanics from Black Flag, while improving on some and introducing certain new things along the way. Unlike Black Flag however, there is not as much emphasis on ship combat, but more so on foot combat like AC III.

What really helps make this game fun is seeing Shay’s (the protagonist) journey going from Assassin to Templar. He goes from an ignorant, young, and following orders without much question Assassin to a man forced to mature due to the heavy guilt he carries on his conscience and joins the Templar side. The story in no sense is traditional to the AC formula, in fact this game’s story is very different compared to what you will have played through in the past.

One complaint I do have is that the game is on the short side. While I can see why due to story reasons, it would have been nice if the story was a little longer extending to at least 8 or 9 sequences/chapters as opposed to the 6 we get. But that is a minor complaint in the fact of excellent gameplay and story.

Rankings:

Here are my rankings for the games recommendation list on the PS3. 7 is the lowest recommendation, where as 1 is the highest.

7 – Assassin’s Creed

6 – Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

5 – Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

4 – Assassin’s Creed II

3 – Assassin’s Creed III

2 – Assassin’s Creed: Rogue

1 – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

But if you want to get the full AC experience, then I say play them all and in the order of their story progression.

That’s my list, what is yours like?

If you would like to post your own order for recommendations, feel free to post them in the comments section below :).

Thanks for reading and hope you have a blast playing the games should you choose to.

Catch you all next time!

~ Mohit