Grading and Excavation Contractor Magazine

Editor’s Comments: Lost in Technology

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I think I was ten or eleven years old when I got lost in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. From the moment I stepped foot into that place, I was mesmerized. There were rockets, fighter jets, space capsules, and biplanes. As I rubbernecked my way around the halls, I kept trying to keep up with my father’s heels to stay right behind him. Of course at that age, you’re beholden to the pace of your parents. You look at an exhibit for as long as they want to look at it. You move on to the next feature when they decide to move on.

The technology amazed me. I was learning what it took to fly. I discovered it was possible to break the sound barrier. Men were on the moon. It didn’t take long for me to be hypnotized. At some point during our walk-through, I stepped into a small enclosed kiosk that was playing video of stunt planes. I don’t know how long I sat and watched, but no one had noticed that I had disappeared into the small booth.

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When the video ended, I walked out expecting to see my dad waiting for me. All I saw were strangers and then I panicked. I couldn’t see my family anywhere. I was alone and lost. I started walking as fast as I could, desperately trying to figure out where they would want to go next while I had no idea where I was.

Thankfully my father was just as anxiously looking for me. It took a few minutes for our searches for each other to cross paths. When they finally did, I was relieved but also in deep trouble.

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Recently, I blogged about an article reporting about an artificial intelligence (AI) that appeared to have accomplished an assigned task by “cheating.” The AI also seemed to intentionally hide data to get away with it. The research came from Stanford University and Google as they monitored a machine learning agent that was tasked with transforming aerial images into street maps and then back to aerial images.

The article was in

“In some early results, the agent was doing well—suspiciously well. What tipped the team off was that, when the agent reconstructed aerial photographs from its street maps, there were lots of details that didn’t seem to be on the latter at all. For instance, skylights on a roof that were eliminated in the process of creating the street map would magically reappear when they asked the agent to do the reverse process.”

The explanation was that it was the age-old problem of computers doing exactly what you’ve told them to do.

When it comes to heavy equipment and project management, technology in the world of dirt moving continues to evolve at an extremely fast pace. Everything from machine control to site management to automation continues to get better and better. The next step is for AI to be integrated which would lead to letting it take over. And when that happens, I hope we’re not mesmerized and hypnotized to the point where we’ve gotten lost in the technology like a ten-year-old boy lost in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum with no idea of what to do or where to go.

Let’s be mindful of how we monitor and improve our technology. Otherwise, we could end up in deep trouble. GX_bug_web

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