Science Fiction and the No-Free-Lunch Theory

In a lot of science fiction films one, or more, of the following are true:

  1. Technology exists that allows you to travel through the universe at the “speed of light.”
  2. Technology that allows autonomous vehicles to navigate complicated 2-D and 3-D worlds exists.
  3. Technology exists that allows robots to communicate with humans in real-time detecting nuances in language.
  4. Handheld weapons have been developed that fire bursts of lethal high energy that require little to no charging.

Yet, despite these amazing technological advances the kill ratio is very low. While it is fiction, I find it puzzling that this innovation inconsistency persists in many films and stories.

This is the no-free-lunch theory in action. Machines are developed to be good at a specific task are not good at doing other tasks. This will have ramifications in many areas especially those that require solving multiple challenges. Autonomous vehicles for example need to be good at 3 things:

  1. Navigating from point A to B
  2. Complying with road rules and regulations.
  3. Negotiating position and priority with other vehicles on the road.
  4. Not killing, or harming, humans and animals.

Of this list 1) and 2) are low level. 3) is challenging to solve as it requires some programmed personality. Imagine if two cars using the same autonomous software meet at a junction at the very same time, one of them needs to give way to the other. This requires some degree of assertiveness to be built. I am not sure this is trivial to solve.

Finally, 4) is probably really hard to solve since it requires 99.99999% success in incidents that occur every million miles. There may never be enough training data.

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