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Autonomy Without Intelligence?


Jamais Cascio
By Jamais Cascio
Fast Company

Posted: Aug 1, 2009

Competition requires speed. Wisdom requires patience. In a hyper-computerized world, which one wins?

In his latest column at Fast Company, IEET Senior Fellow Jamais Cascio writes:

“High-frequency trading” (HFT) has gone from a financial industry dark art to newspaper and blog headline-fodder over the last few days, and for good reason. The practice, which relies on networked computers to execute billions of micro-scale transactions in order to sniff out prices and beat out slower traders, has all of the earmarks of a Very Bad Thing, indeed: exploitation of pre-computerized trading rules; possible out-and-out illegal activity (“front-running”); and systems operating too fast for any human to oversee, let alone counter. . .

HFT systems were designed to operate in an environment where even the lowliest day-traders had access to powerful computers and high-bandwidth connections. That is, the competition for HFT isn’t just the human making buy and sell decisions, but the computerized system augmenting that trader: popping up alerts, executing buy and sell orders based on pre-arranged triggers, and gradually reducing the number of decisions the human operating needs to make over the course of a trading session. It’s an arms race, of sorts, and one that wasn’t anywhere near ending. . .

So here’s where the parallel to military systems becomes clear. Right now, the tactical awareness and decision-making used by military robots and computers operates, by and large, at human speeds. It may seem like a split-second decision has to be made when a Reaper identifies a potential target and transmits that data via satellite to controllers in the US, who then have to decide whether or not to pull the trigger, but from a computer’s point of view, that decision-making period—perhaps taking as much as a minute—means millions of cycles of just doing nothing, waiting for the human minds to act. . .

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Jamais Cascio is a Senior Fellow of the IEET, and a professional futurist. He writes the popular blog Open the Future.
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