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It’s called Roko's Basilisk. This thought experiment posits that the creation of an artificial intelligence will lead to an all-powerful, future artificial intelligence that will retroactively punish anyone who did not help bring it into existence. It’s been described by many as the scariest thought experiment ever. The really scary part is that it is grounded in actual rational thought and game theory.

It has been associated with Pascal’s wager, 17th century French mathematician, philosopher, and theologian Blaise Pascal’s argument that one should believe in God, even if God’s existence cannot be proved or disproved through reason. Taken to what some would agree is a satirical extreme, it has also been referred to as “Believing in and searching for kryptonite on the off chance that Superman exists and wants to kill you.”

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Referencing Superman at this point may not seem odd to you, particularly if you recognized Roko’s Basilisk as a part of the plot of the classic sci-fi movie The Terminator, in which a killer robot is sent back in time by an artificial intelligence that wages war against the humans that created it. Whether bolstered by a legacy of fantastic stories or not, because of the progress of the technology, these kinds of arguments have thrust themselves into real-world discussions of late.

We have most likely all seen, or even experienced for ourselves, the uneasiness that is created by the powerful technology of our smart phones and the internet. The popular Netflix documentary, The Great Hack, contains a scene in which a moderator in a room full of people asks, “Who has seen an [online] advertisement that convinced you that your [cell phone] microphone is listening to your conversations?” Every hand in the room shot up.

“Who has seen an advertisement that convinced you that your microphone is listening to your conversations?”

One explanation is that the algorithms of the internet and its platforms have become so sophisticated in understanding what we are doing with our smartphones as to be able to predict our actions and the information we want, almost as if it is reading our minds. Artificial intelligence and machine learning have a great deal to do with that sophistication. In fact, back in June, news broke that one of Google’s own engineers was convinced that the company’s artificially intelligent chat bot had become sentient.

For now, and when speaking of the internet, it is probably a long way from The Terminator and Arnold Schwarzenegger coming back in time to kill us. But what does it mean for the manufacturing sector, where AI and robots are becoming more and more prevalent?

For quite some time in manufacturing, the question was, “Are robots coming to take our jobs?” The answer, then and now, is that robots and AI stand ready to do the job side-by-side with humans, who can relinquish the mundane and repetitive jobs to concentrate on the aspects of the job machines just cannot do. Which means that addressing the skills gap is just as important as it has ever been for manufacturers.

As Genevieve Diesing details in her article, “Despite offering workers an average annual compensation of $84,832 in 2017, manufacturers struggle to fill positions. A 2021 study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute (MI) forecasts that 2.1 million manufacturing positions will go unfulfilled by 2030. These empty positions could cost the nation about $1 trillion in GDP.”

See the thoughts of industry experts on the subject and how manufacturers are tackling the issue in Genevieve’s article, “COVID Has Not Helped the Skills Gap,” and everything else we have to offer in this month’s Quality.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!