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These are Rory's thoughts and musings about various issues, including any other articles and features done by Rory on a range of subjects.

Growing up with divorced parents

Published January 16, 2018

Robotic AI

“It was nothing but heartbreak. [It was] One of, if not the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with in my life.”

One gloomy Friday night in 1998 is all it took for Thomas Dale’s childhood to freeze in time. What started off as an average day at school took a drastic turn in a way he could have never expected. A night that started off upbeat and cheerful, one which looking back, he realises was just a front for the pain that followed, ended quite the opposite.

“I don’t remember an awful lot about life in general back then; I was five – but that day is something I’ll never forget.

“I got out of my dad’s car after school and went into the house – thinking about it, it’s things like that which you take for granted. That was the last time I ever got picked up from school by my dad, the last time we’d ever stop at the shop to get my favourite sweets on a Friday.

“I got inside and I remember eating my then favourite pizza, Hawaiian. Something, which funnily enough, I now cannot stand.

“They sat me down and explained they hadn’t been getting on recently and were separating. ‘I’m sorry’ were their final words before waiting for me to say something.

“I knew it had nothing to do with me but I couldn’t help but feel it was something I’d done. I just burst into tears and ran out the room.”

In 1998, along with Tom’s, another 145,000 households went through a divorce, whilst last year saw 106,959 marriages end the same way.

Tom, now 24 and studying Sports Coaching at Staffordshire University, tells me how he thinks the tender age of five is the worst age to be when parents get divorced. Having matured enough to realise it’s a sorrowful, yet common occurrence, his voice softens as if not to break during speech.

“The hardest thing, as I guess it is with most children going through something like this, is why?

“I was old enough to understand they wouldn’t be together anymore, but too young to comprehend why.

“At that age it doesn’t take a lot for parents to hide their true feelings for each other and shelter you from all the arguments. I get why, but if anything that just made the inevitable harder to deal with.”

According to the latest government statistics, 55,323 parents divorced in 2013, happening most frequently when the child is between five to 10-years-old. This left nearly 100,000 children under the age of 16 with separated parents.

“It’s always a hard thing to talk about. Just like whenever you’ve been through something that someone else hasn’t it’s hard for them to fully understand.

“But like all things in life, it has moulded me into who I am today. Thankfully I get on with them both well and after knowing how some children come out of something like this, I’m very grateful.”

It may be comforting to know that after the peak of divorces in 2003, the rate has slowly been on the decline. 58% of marriages today will not end in divorce, with 10% reaching their diamond wedding anniversary (60 years). However, coming from a home inside that now 58%, I can’t help but sympathise with the children in the remaining 42.

Robotic AI and what the future holds

Published December 16, 2017

Robotic AI

The year’s 2040, you need some shopping and order it online. Five minutes later, it arrives at your door by a robot courier in a driverless car, so lifelike you almost invite it in. This may sound like a distant dream only to be seen in the likes of ‘Black Mirror’ or ‘Ex Machina’, but as technology advances, this is only becoming more and more of a possibility.

In the sixties is seemed a forgone conclusion that by 2015 we would be driving hover-cars and be living on the moon. The future is near impossible to predict, but what is the likelihood of robots becoming too much for humans to handle?

It was only in July this year, social media giant Facebook had to shut down a pair of its AI agents named Alice and Bob due to them creating their own language, untranslatable to humans.

“There was no reward to sticking to the English language,” Dhruva Batra, Facebook researcher, told FastCo.

“Agents will drift off understandable language and invent code words for themselves.”

Humans have always been self-destructive throughout history, but when will we realise this is becoming a step too far? Many scientists, including Professor Stephen Hawking, predict that in as little as 20 years robots will be able to do practically every job done by humans. Robots are already replacing humans in many day-to-day jobs and it can only get worse.

There are obvious benefits of having robots around, however. For example, in a study done by Showa University in Yokohama, Japan, robots could detect cancerous cells with 94% accuracy in less than a second by matching cell growth against over 30,000 images. Robot carers are already being tested to look after the elderly and put less pressure on care homes worldwide, and a government competition backed by £2m has been launched for people to innovate technology that could help keep the public safe in high terrorism threats. Nevertheless, after showing their intelligence, giving robots this much power in our world can inevitably only lead to one thing.

The robot versus human ideology is already well and truly in practice, and this type of takeover could start with seemingly harmless interactions. In the early 1990’s, the idea to create a socially integrating campaign to boost the public’s robotic awareness was thought of. The football Robocup concept was created, designed to construct robots that could beat the most recent human world cup winners, all within 50 years. With backing from global sponsors, the first official games and conference was held in 1997. Over 40 human and simulated teams competed, with over 5,000 spectators, more than most Football League Two teams.

Laws and regulations must be put in place to restrict and monitor the creation of AI. Without it, it is only a matter of time before robots are used as military killing machines, leading to a new-age war, thought previously only possible in science fiction.

The Human Rights Watch have already warned of the dangers this could bring, stating that humans should remain in control of all weapons at a time of rapid technological advancements.
In an open statement, Bonnie Docherty, senior arms division researcher at Human Rights Watch, said it has now become a real threat that humans could delegate these life-and-death decisions to machines.

“Machines have long served as instruments of war, but historically humans have directed how they are used. That could all change.”

Is human curiosity into artificial intelligence going to prove to be the downfall of humanity? Or will these theories be looked back on with mockery, just as outlandish as Charles H. Duell’s, the Commissioner of the US patent office, 1899:

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” 

Rory Smith - Journalist