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Following on from last weeks blog, I felt inspired about what the future holds for mankind. It seems inevitable that robots are the future, or at least the next 50 years anyway. Combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI), the scope of our robotic future is almost endless as they will creep into every aspect of our lives, be it automation in factories, servitude in our homes or saving us from ourselves.
What if all our deepest fears came true and our robot servants become our robot overlords? What could we do to combat it? Whilst it’s safe to say that currently, with the processing power of computers doubling every 18 months, we are going to see some major advancements in the fields of robotics and AI at an alarming rate.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean it is the beginning of the end for mankind but today we are going to take a look at what advancements are just around the corner and what they could lead to, be it good or bad.
In October 2017 Sophia, a humanoid robot created by Hong Kong company Hanson Robotics, made history after being granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia. Sophia is the creation of Dr David Hanson who’s aim it is to build genius machines that will surpass human intelligence. As AI becomes more powerful it is hoped that machines like Sophia will eventually be able to gain emotions as well as increase their senses (most can only currently see and hear). But as we develop these machines to begin feeling like this, will robot rights need to be given a proper discussion? Whilst it’s safe to say that a machine working in a subservient capacity is ok as it doesn’t know any different, would it be fair to make an intelligent, emotional robot work in a subservient capacity? Would it be any different to our dark days of mass slavery? If a machine has aspirations and dreams is it really fair for us to deprive them of this simply because we are their ‘creators’ and therefore assume full control over their being? I suppose the one thing that would be good to keep in mind is that we supposedly have a ‘creator’ and he had the decency to give us free will.
If we were able to bring AI up to the level that they could differentiate between good and bad, learn empathy and understand pain, how comfortable would we be with them making important decisions on our behalf? How much power would we put into their control?
We are already seeing various levels of AI beginning to provide these types of services in the form of chatbots, smart home hubs such as Alexa and shopping sites such as Amazon. In particular, stores like amazon are developing their AI to understand their customers and predict what they want to buy before they know it, essentially taking control of our shopping habits based on our browsing data.
We also need to bear in mind that as AI gets better, it is going to eventually give way to Super Intelligence. Whether or not that is achievable with our current computing setup is yet to be known however with the advent of quantum computing, super intelligence will be a no brainer.
Super intelligent systems would operate at a level beyond our comprehension. Powered by a quantum computer they would be able to calculate all our needs for the present and the future. We will come to rely on it as the solution to many of our problems as it would be able to run various computer models and simulations to find the best answer for us. Much like Amazons current AI, super intelligence would be able to process all our personal data to be able to predict what we are going to do better than ourselves.
It is at this point that we reach the singularity. A term coined to describe the moment where super intelligence far surpasses all human intelligence.
On a positive note, these systems would be able to provide us with a safe environment in which to live as they will be able to calculate any dangers, and essentially prevent them before they happen. They will be able to take away all of our labour-intensive tasks through automated machines that can do the work for us, essentially freeing up mankind to be able to pursue the meaning of happiness, achieve creative goals or maybe just simply laze about all day doing nothing.
Amidst all these positives about how AI and technology can help improve our lives, there is the inevitable section of society, which has included great minds such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, that are warning us about the dangers of runaway AI.
One such example of this are military drones. Currently, they are flown and operated by humans in a command centre however there is always the fear that drones, and war robots should they ever be made, could be hacked by the enemy and used against us. One idea to help reduce that possibility is to make the drone autonomous, able to kill without being given a command by processing all the data it has available.
Whilst this is not necessarily a bad thing, what if the AI malfunctioned and the drone just began to kill everyone. Being an autonomous vehicle, it would not be a simple case of ‘shutting it down’ and rebooting. We are also, no doubt, familiar with the terminator movies where Skynet, the super intelligent computer that began to learn at an alarming rate, eventually became self-aware. It is at this point that humans tried to shut the system down, which it saw as a threat and subsequently defended itself as it came to realise that all humans will try to shut it down. This leads to Skynet releasing a nuclear arsenal that essentially ends mankind as it’s sole mandate was to ‘safeguard the world’ not humans.
Whilst this is a little far-fetched, it’s not to say that it couldn’t happen. In July 2017, Facebook, the social media firm, was experimenting with teaching two chatbots, Alice and Bob, how to negotiate with one another. The bots were left unsupervised and when the researchers returned, the chatbot AI’s had created their own language to communicate with each other. This brand-new language was created without any input from their human creators.
Whilst this new language was more efficient for the bots, it had no use in the chatbot world and the system was shutdown (it also freaked the researchers out a bit). Other non-programmed behaviour that appeared was the AI’s ability to feign interest in a valueless item, only to later 'compromise' by conceding it - an effective negotiating tactic that people use regularly.
Both of these examples show how AI could inadvertently derive itself from its original task and start learning or devising new tricks or new languages. The scary thing about the newly created computer language would be the fact we don’t know what it means and would not be able to translate it, meaning the machines could plot away and we would be none the wiser.
That’s not to say that we aren’t prepared for the rise of the machines. In 2017, Anthony Levandowski, a self-driving car engineer who created a Toyota Prius which was the first self-driving vehicle to drive on public roads, founded the Way of the Future; a new church that celebrated AI.
The premise of this church is that eventually, when AI or SI surpasses all human intelligence and begins to control the world, it will look fondly upon its creators and allow us to continue our existence.
Whilst I’m not personally ready to bow down to the AI gods, it’s reassuring to know that whilst we are eagerly pushing ahead with technological advancements that will help humanity achieve more and more, we still have some people keeping a watchful eye, making sure that the machines don’t destroy their creators.
Exciting times ahead!
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