What happens when you put an advanced cognitive algorithm inside a humanoid robot? A very smart and efficient resource capable of out-thinking and out-working most humans.
Smart robots, like the acrobatic Atlas from Boston Dynamics, are a new breed of animal in the global food chain whose rise is causing some to chomp at the bit at the possibilities.
There is however, a significant chorus warning to tread lightly as we build a future defined by animated humanoids capable of deciding what’s best for us.
Artificial intelligence’s (AI) potential to substitute human cognition goes beyond disruption. The implications of building technology that can “think” millions of times faster than the human brain is the kind of thing that can pivot a civilisation into unexpected and very interesting places.
This, along with a wave of developments in robotics (from weaponised drones patrolling conflict hotspots to robotised warehouses in China) is creating a plot for one of the most interesting times in human existence. While its full potential (or threat) is yet to be revealed, the uncharted places technologies like robotised AI is taking us makes for a fascinating few decades up ahead.
However, as perennial wisdom dictates, with great power comes great responsibility, which makes finding answers to questions involving ultimate ownership, ethics and the application of these technologies pressing to say the least.
No Clear Path Forward
Uncertainty about where exploration in AI and robotics will take us is what makes it both so exciting and frightening. While concerns about terrorist organisations and overly ambitious governments going at each other with weaponised AI and killer robots keeps Elon Musk up at night, other leading minds such as that of Tim Berners-Lee warns of a future-omnipresent AI capable of exercising massive influence over global economic, political and social administration.
Such Hollywood-esque predictions are, in fact, not very far away from a possible outcome. We’re already seeing smart algorithms increasingly contributing to decisions in healthcare, global food distribution, cultural trends, crime prevention and public service administration. These realities are surely precursors to what is possible with tomorrow’s monolithic AI-based, neural networks a la IBM Watson and DeepMind.
“There is a popular cliche … which says that you cannot get out of computers any more than you put in. Other versions are that computers only do exactly what you tell them to, and that therefore computers are never creative. The cliche is true only in the crashingly trivial sense, the same sense in which Shakespeare never wrote anything except what his first schoolteacher taught him to write–words.”- Richard Dawkins
Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff, warns of a possible “digital refugee” crisis resulting from mass invasions by comparatively cheap automation and cognitive platforms capable of replacing humans. The technology is touted to affect jobs as varied as accounting, store clerks, food preparation, warehousing and even hospitality as humans become accustomed to interacting with evolving digital mediums. According to Benioff, “This is the moment, I think, when we have the highest level of anxiety because we can see advances in AI that are beyond what we had expected.”
Herein lies one of the biggest challenges to society with respect to AI; making it work in a way that results in the best outcomes for all humans. Nervous questions about the millions of jobs the technology could make obsolete, it’s potency as a warfare apparatus and potential to outwit and outlast us all remain unanswered, leaving the door open for speculation on where it all could lead to.
The March of the Machines
In the world of bionics, robots are being produced with astonishing likeness to that of humans, allowing them to mimic, and even surpass, human abilities on many levels. This makes robots and AI different sides of the same coin to complete the construct that is robotised AI. According to Robohub, these smart machines can easily “…pick and pack warehouse orders, sort, inspect, process and handle fruits and vegetables, plus a myriad of other industrial and non-industrial tasks, most faster than humans, yet all the while working safely alongside them.”
Worldwide revenue from AI is expected to increase tenfold between 2017 and 2022, with the majority of AI companies developing more sophisticated machine learning capabilities. The global robotics industry is also going at full steam with growth expected to double from $70 billion in 2017 to $140 billion by 2019. Also, demands for skills in these fields have nearly five folded and will only increase as the race for AI dominance intensifies.
Governments are also mobilising massive efforts in advancing robotised AI for myriad applications – some undoubtedly more noble than others. U.S Military investment in robotics is expected to double by the year 2025. AI is largely considered the next battleground between Eastern and Western power brokers as IP addresses, computer hacks, consensus engineering and IP theft all replace the golden days of international espionage.
In fact, Elon Musk has repeatedly led the chorus against AI’s potential to cause a third world war. However, with China announcing its intention to become the de facto leader in robotised AI by 2020 and Vladimir Putin calling it the future for mankind, the race for AI dominance is on.
The Case for Ethics and Ownership
From the global stage of international politics to war zones to the threat facing blue collar workers across the world, smart machines are raising the stakes for a vast amount of folks from very different walks of life. Yet, for all the fear and loathing that surrounds the technology, it has the undeniable potential to change the world for the greater good, making it impossible to resist.
Today’s relatively primitive algorithms have the potential to prevent famine, predict natural disasters, cure diseases and even take mankind beyond the outer reaches of our solar system. That’s the kind of potential you can’t deny or leave in the hands of a concentrated few. To this end, initiatives such as the Partnership on AI formed between Google, Apple, Facebook and IBM are positive developments towards accountability and ethics in the use of AI. The partnership and others like Elon Musk’s Open AI are weighing in on how a democratised approach to the technology can ensure the best possible outcomes.
“I believe this artificial intelligence is going to be our partner. If we misuse it, it will be a risk. If we use it right, it can be our partner.”- Masayoshi Son
Yet, groups like these mostly give voice to self-interested, multi-billion dollar businesses and other special interests but leave ample room at the table for ordinary people to map the future of an AI-world. The recent Facebook data scandal and many other examples of IP misuse should give cause for concern about a future in which a concentrated few yield so much control over immensely powerful technologies.
In fact, we can take countless lessons from the not too-distant-past in which humans failed miserably at using innovation for the greater good. In the end, it’s not so much about what “the robots will do to us”, but more a case of whether the human algorithm will evolve sufficiently to see AI as an opportunity to reshape the world for the better.
From server rooms housing Windows NT4 systems of yesteryear, to hybrid cloud environments we find today, Yaseen has worked with leading technology brands for over a decade, which gives him an acute understanding of where technology has come from and the new and interesting places it is taking the business world. As a Digital Copywriter, he uses this unique vantage point to share his insights on the evolving digital realm.