The talk of robotics and artificial intelligence is nothing new, with the world having been exposed to sci-fi movies for decades, the most lifelike robots in films such as The Blade Runner, which was certainly ahead of its time and now, a more reasonable image of what lies ahead. And let’s not forget C3PO and R2DT, George Lucas’s creation.
Artificial Intelligence is not just down to robotics, however, but any form of intelligence that is exhibited by machine, rather than natural life form, the intelligence element being the machine’s ability to demonstrate cognitive functions akin to those of human minds, including learning and problem-solving.
As of today, according to Forbes, 10 powerful examples of artificial intelligence used today include Google’s DeepMind, but more common AI forms in existence today are:
Siri: Apple’s personal assistant, which is computer voice-activated, uses machine-learning technology to get smarter and therefore more adept at predicting and understanding questions and requests.
Alexa: Introduced by Amazon, is able to decipher speech from anywhere in the room, helping users to search the web for information, shop online, schedule appointments, set alarms, etc.., not to mention create a smart home environment.
Tesla: Self-driving a key feature, Tesla also has predictive capabilities, with the vehicles getting smarter and smarter.
Cogito: Considered to be one of the most powerful A.I. forms in existence today, is able to improve the emotional intelligence of customer support reps in the market. Cogito is a fusion of machine learning and behavioral science.
Boxever: Emphasis is on machine learning to improve customer experience within the travel industry.
John Paul: Predictive algorithms for client interactions, allows John Paul to determine the needs and desires of travelers at an extreme level, the company providing concierge services for millions of customers across the globe, including Visa.
Amazon: Perhaps little surprise that Amazon.com appears twice on the list, with the company becoming exceptionally good at predicting what buyers are interested in buying based on online behavioral patterns.
Netflix: Another successful example of predictive technology, which analyses billions of records to then be able to suggest appropriate movie choices based on previous selections and ratings.
Pandora: Music technology that is being labeled as music DNA, recommending songs based on 400 musical characteristics.
Nest: This is a learning thermostat acquired by Google back in 2014 and can now be voice-controlled by Alexa. Nest uses behavioral algorithms to learn the heating and cooling needs, managing the internal temperatures at home and in the office.
Considering where we are today on A.I., the pace of advancement is likely to accelerate, as we see smart cars, smartphones, smart watches turn into pretty much smart anything, taking the necessary control away from the user.
We will expect A.I. to evolve to such an extent that by the time robotics are beyond the manufacturing industry and ever-present within the services industry, the combination of the above 10 and more will likely be just a small component of the capabilities of modern tech.
Who needs to remember an anniversary or a birthday and struggle with selecting the right gifts, when our home robots will already have analyzed and assessed the most suitable gift and purchased it online without even a word from the less, but naturally intelligent buyer.
Bill Gates, Stephan Hawking and Elon Musk Warn us about AI
There is a pretty mixed view on the advancement of artificial intelligence and like anything new, there are the scaremongers and those who embrace.
Elon Musk has perhaps been the most vocal anti-A.I. figurehead in recent times, despite being amongst the most forward-thinking CEOs of modern times, Tesla certainly not from the dark ages and likely to make further advancements in A.I. than many of its competitors.
Musk sees Silicon Valley’s thirst for artificial intelligence as a scary one and believes that everyone should be afraid of what’s on the horizon, a possible take-over by machine-learning overlords.
One of the more well-known creators of A.I. is Demis Hassabis, the co-founder of London Laboratory DeepMind.
The two were sitting at Musk’s SpaceX rocket factory, with Musk talking about what he considered to be the most important global project, facilitating interplanetary colonization.
Hassabis had an altogether different view, this project being the most important project in the world, not just artificial intelligence, but artificial superintelligence.
If there are any doubters on Musk’s view on Artificial Intelligence, his response was clear. Interplanetary colonization was all the more important to provide humans a plan B in case A.I. goes rogue and turns on the human race. Hassabis may have been joking, but retorted with “A.I would simply follow humans to Mars.”
Hassabis is considered the Yoda of A.I., so how quickly progress is made will have little to do with whether the concept is embraced, artificial intelligence creeping into everyday life with few aware of where we are today and where we will be tomorrow.
It’s pretty obvious that Musk is afraid of what lies ahead. Perhaps the doomsday outlook akin to The Terminator, where Artificial Intelligence started World War III and took over the world, is where Musk sees things going and let’s face it, if we get to the point where machines are capable of self-teaching, there’s little hope for natural intelligence and its limitations.
Shane Legg, who is Hassabis’s partner at DeepMind has a more simplistic view, believing that human extinction will probably occur, with technology likely to play its part.
It may sound like headline-grabbing egotism, but if you think about it, it’s a more reasonable view than suggesting global warming will bring the ecosystem to an end.
Musk was an investor in DeepMind before it was acquired by Google back in 2014 and when asked why he had invested, he saw it as an opportunity to keep an eye on the development of A.I. The CEO of Tesla may want to reconsider developing self-driving cars that may decide it’s better for you to go home than go for a drink with friends on a Friday night, or worse yet, attend an anti-A.I strategy meeting.
Musk is not the only modern CEO to listen to, however, with Bill Gates certainly up there when it comes to technological advancements.
As the former richest man on the planet, there’s good cause for the Microsoft co-founder to want control of planet earth to remain in the hands of mankind. Surprisingly, Gates has a different view and of all the things he would like to see advance the most in his lifetime, he simply stated that he would like to see A.I. develop to the point where computers can read and understand information in the same way as humans.
While Gates would like to see A.I.’s advancement, he did elaborate saying that humans should be worried about the threat of Artificial Intelligence, adding that he was somewhat perplexed as to why people were not more concerned with the possibility that A.I. could eventually become too advanced for humans to control.
Gates says that he agrees with Elon Musk, concerned over how Artificial Super-Intelligence will eventually take over.
If Gates and Musk are not high profile enough to raise some red flags over what lies ahead, not for our generation, but perhaps the next, Professor Stephen Hawking has also expressed concern, saying that he believed machines with A.I. could “spell the end of the human race.”
Microsoft’s Mr. Horvits, who runs Microsoft Research Lab, disagrees with Musk, Gates, and Hawking, seeing only the advantages and there are plenty, but as always, there’s always a price tag.
The Next Battle? Man vs Artificial Intelligence
Man vs Machine has been a battle of the ages, with the continued advancement of computers having already impacted multiple sectors, leading to less need for human involvement.
In recent times, perhaps the biggest loss to the machine has been automation in the manufacturing industry as robotics evolved in the last few decades and some companies looked to reduce fixed costs in the world of ever decreasing margins.
Well-known manufacturer Foxconn announced at the end of 2016 that the Company has a 3-phased plan in place to automate its Chinese factories, using software and in-house robotic units, known as Foxbots.
- Phase 1 involves replacing the work that is either dangerous or involves repetitious labor that humans are willing to do.
- Phase 3 involves automation of entire factories with only a minimal number of workers assigned to production, logistics, testing and inspection processes.
- Projections are for 30% automation by 2020 at Chinese factories.
- Foxconn can produce 10,000 Foxbots per annum and in March announced that the company had automated away 60,000 jobs at one of its factories.
The initial investment may be expensive, but as production costs for robots soften through greater demand and competition for market share, we expect automation to accelerate.
- Worldwide annual supply of industrial robots is forecasted to have an annual increase of 15% between 2009 – 2018.
- Supply of automated machines to Asia / Australasia is forecasted to see the largest growth rates.
In the last 6-years, the use of industrial robots has nearly tripled, the growth attributed to the Asian market where there are less social pressures.
The numbers are certainly telling and this is just the tip of the iceberg as robotics begins to stretch beyond manufacturing into Medicine, Transportation, and many other sectors.
While we have continued to be comforted with the knowledge that not all jobs can be given away to the machine, artificial intelligence evolution in the coming years may well question whether there are any jobs out there that a machine would not do better. Humans still have higher qualities than machines.
The Good, the Bad and the Scary
Taking a step back, we could consider the good, the bad and the scary from an A.I perspective and with governments more interested in controlling other sectors such as medical advancements. For now, at least, all three scenarios are more than just possibilities, in what is likely to be a 3 phase process, the human race expected to initially embrace the advancement of A.I. and all the benefits, before A.I. just gets too intelligent.
Obviously, the benefits are endless when we consider all of the menial tasks, but the key advantage considered by many is the expectation that A.I. will replicate human decision and actions, whilst eliminating the failings of mankind, these being fatigue and emotion.
We’ve seen the development and advancement that has given companies more consistent performance through the use of machines in place of man, the only errors in production apparently coming from human error, in the decision-making process rather than the actual production process itself.
You only need to see the hours worked by doctors and surgeons. Would you prefer to be under the knife in a lifesaving operation, with a fatigued surgeon at the table or a fully charged Robot?
With robotics also creating the possibilities of replacing humans in more dangerous jobs such as mining, some may view this as a positive, whilst others will perhaps be anxious over the fact that machines have continued to replace man in recent decades and, the smarter they get, the more rapid the pace of displacement will become.
We’ve talked about the fears of some over the advancement of A.I. and there are of course the ethical and moral values to consider, but ultimately the most negative element of Artificial Intelligence must be the fact that machines are able to store massive amounts of data. If A.I eventually reaches the realms of the unthinkable, why would companies even consider hiring humans, when robots are able to work for free and 24-7, without the world of Human Resources, pay rises and bonuses, the only cost to the company being the purchase, development, and servicing of the robots.
Once the world falls into mass unemployment, anarchy will undoubtedly prevail and if A.I is given the free reign that its developers crave for, it would only be a matter of time before the creators become the victim of their own success, losing control, with mankind ruled by the kind that is not voted into office.
Human nature has a self-destructive element to it, human life fallible to the creation of mankind. Artificial Intelligence has been seen as a way to address the weaknesses of mankind, but in the end, A.I is more than likely going to identify the very weaknesses and take over than to sit back and be dominated. John Connor and the human resistance against the machine, with Skynet to blame. Which company will be Skynet’s reality is yet unclear, but a reality it will likely be and Gates, Musk or Hawking will have very little influence over it.
Stepping away from the fear of machine and the realities of what lies ahead, we have seen plenty of evidence with algorithms on the financial markets, with flash crashes and inexplicable market movements becoming the norm. Trading is electronic and worse yet, if you look towards cryptocurrencies, there’s not even a hard copy certificate of ownership. Do certain individuals merit wealth and who decides? Today it’s the regulators on the developed markets, not quite yet on Bitcoin or other digital currency. A shutdown of the world wide web with the evolution of machine domination and the prospect of humans sending viruses would not be completely farfetched. What value would cryptocurrencies have in should there be an end to the internet as we know it? The days of analysts scouring macroeconomic reports are at peril, with it only being a matter of time before machines know best, but it will ultimately be an implosion of the markets as we know it today, with a return to physical and more importantly, Cash being King…
Afterall, if machines are ruling the world, who will be left to invest?