'Beware the robots,' chief justice tells high school graduates

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Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. advised high school graduates on Thursday near the nation’s capital to be aware how artificial intelligence and “big data” can change perception.

In other words, “beware the robots,” Roberts said in a speech to graduates of Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic school in Bethesda, Maryland. Roberts’ daughter, Josie, was among those graduating. USA Today covered the speech, while How Appealing links to a YouTube video.

“My worry is not that machines will start thinking like us,” Roberts said. “I worry that we will start thinking like machines.”

Roberts also said private companies use artificial intelligence to “tell you what to read, to watch and listen to, based on what you’ve read, watched and listened to.” Those suggestions can narrow and oversimplify information, stifling individuality and creativity, he said.

Roberts said machines can advise lawmakers about the views of their constituents and how best to appeal to them. “Any politician would find it very difficult not to shape his or her message to what constituents want to hear,” Roberts said. “Artificial intelligence can change leaders into followers.”

The remedy is to use real intelligence—meaning thinking rather than gathering more information, Roberts said.

Roberts advised the graduates to set aside some time each day to reflect. “Do not read more, do not research more, do not take notes,” he said. “Put aside books, papers, computers, telephones. Sit, perhaps just for a half hour, and think about what you’re learning. Acquiring more information is less important than thinking about the information you have.”

Roberts also told the graduates not to stress about decisions because sometimes life changes from twists of fate. The United States is founded on the pursuit of happiness, he said, and the graduates “have a patriotic duty to be happy.”

Roberts began his speech by saying he was given only 10 minutes for his address. He asked how he can possibly communicate all the wisdom he has acquired in a 10-minute period.

The answer, he quipped, was, “Speak very slowly.”

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