Robots are increasingly replacing human functions by automating manual tasks. Killer robots, digital doctors, and driverless cars are just a few examples of how far technology has gone in taking over our lives and replacing human effort.
Despite the efficiencies and cost-savings gained, questions are being raised about how much leeway robotic automation should be allowed to have. This is particularly so given the potentially far-reaching consequences of abuse by human operators, technical malfunctions with dangerous consequences or the impact on jobs or employment growth.
One such flaw in Artificial Intelligence technology was exposed last week when Microsoft was forced to apologize after it's twitter chat robot, Tay, became a Hitler-loving, racist promoting, evil robot proclaiming, 'Bush did 9/11'. Microsoft initially created Tay in an effort to improve the customer service on its voice recognition software. She was intended to tweet "like a teen girl" and was designed to "engage and entertain people where they connect with each other online through casual and playful conversation."
But she's also designed to personalize her interactions with users, including mirroring users' statements back to them and this is where twitter users were able take advantage of her programming. In less than 24hrs from her launch, Tay was spouting off statements of hate and offending everyone possible as users exposed this flaw. She had created a PR nightmare for Microsoft and demonstrated how quickly artificial intelligence can spiral out of control.
Now consider the numerous other ways in which AI and robotics are taking over many aspects of our society.
Hannah Devlin, science correspondent for the guardian.com recently examined aspects of the role of Artificial Intelligence, its current impact and future potential.
Devlin started off with the example of the recent defeat of one of the worlds strongest Go players, Lee Sedol, as a demonstration of the qualitative leap in AI that has already taken place. Go is an ancient Chinese board game that has long been considered one of the great challenges faced by AI. The program, developed by Google DeepMind, was not preprogrammed with killer moves, nor did it win by dint of an ability to crunch through all the possible moves at lightning speed.
AlphaGo, learned by playing millions of games against itself, developing such an individual style of play that its own human creators were "pretty shocked" by some of its moves in what could be "the turning point for AI".
Google has made no secret of its ambition to turn the same type of deep-learning software to significant real-world applications such as healthcare, transport and climate change research. Devlin stated that the new insights that AI would bring to these areas could be considerable, but policy-makers need to ensure that the technology benefits society at large and not just the elite owners of robots.
George Osborne, U.K Chancellor of the Exchequer was expected to announce in his recent budget that driverless cars will be tested on Britains motorways as soon as next year.
Yet the laws around liability for autonomous cars remain hazy. If an obstacle appears suddenly on the road, will Googles vehicle be able to distinguish a plastic bag, a pigeon, and a child? In a lethal accident, who will be to blame the car owner, the manufacturer, or even the robot itself?
Similar questions arise around medical diagnosis and care. Software is already being introduced to remind patients to take their medication via text message or to process repeat prescriptions.
Devlin expects that it is only a matter of time before machine intelligence is being used more widely to improve diagnosis and treatment for everything from cancer to dementia, and that these tools need to be scrutinized ethically as well as scientifically.
The implications for human resource development are not in doubt. As Devlin states, AI is already rapidly creating jobs, while destroying others it is not yet clear how this will balance out in the long run. Robots could soon surpass humans at routine legal work, language translation and medical diagnosis, for instance, but gardeners, plumbers, and physiotherapists may be harder to replace.
Devlin concludes that the threats of job security and the need for regulation of AI are among issues needing to be tackled now to ensure that we place human values above money and convenience when applying this powerful new technology.
Separate reports corroborate these views. According to www.chron.com, a fast food outlet in New Zealand, Dominos recently announced the testing of a pizza deliveryman robot. The robot was described as a four-wheeled, short and squat droid who looks like a cross between a Wall-E and an R2D2.
At the same time, Carl's Jr. CEO Andy Pudzer told Business Insider this week he wants to build a fully-automated restaurant because minimum wages continue to go up across the country. "With government driving up the cost of labor, it's driving down the number of jobs," he told Business Insider. "You're going to see automation not just in airports and grocery stores, but in restaurants."
Googles plan to market and sell self-driving cars similarly threatens taxi companies such as Uber and Lyft, not to mention taxi or cab drivers who will be out of jobs. At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., in February, Professor Moshe Vardi said robots will take over most jobs in 30 years.
"We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task&Robots are doing more and more jobs that people used to do. Pharmacists, prison guards, boning chicken, bartending&we're able to mechanize them," said Vardi, a professor in computational engineering at Rice University.
It's a reality that Americans have been slow to come to terms with, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. Jennings Brown for vocative.com reported that based on the poll findings, the majority of America believes that robots will take over the workforce within the next fifty years. Everything will become automatedexcept for their own jobs.
Ironically although 65 percent of Americans think robots will steal most jobs, even more Americans, 80 percent, are certain that the machine uprising wont affect their own job over the next half century, pointing to a sense of denial or wishful thinking in relation to the inevitable outcome.
People with a higher income, college degrees or who work in education, government or non-profits, were even more likely to insist their jobs were safe from 'entitled androids'.
Another issue raised with increased robotic intervention is that of the overall loss of human connection such as at the grocery store, the bank, or the library when there's an actual person behind the counter or at the cash register.
Some companies would disagree and would argue that robots can in some ways replicate that human element. In a recent article for motherboard.vice.com, Natalie ONeil expounded on how companies want to replicate your dead loved ones with robot clones.
O'Neil explains that, according to grief counselors, many grieving people feel an emotional connection to things that represent their deceased loved ones, such as headstones, urns and shrines.
In the future, people may take that phenomenon to stunning new heights: Artificial intelligence experts predict that humans will replace dead relatives with synthetic robot clones, complete with a digital copy of that person's brain.
"It's like when people stuff a pet cat or dog. We dont stuff humans but this is a way of stuffing their information, their personality and mannerisms," said Bruce Duncan, managing director of Terasem Movement, a research foundation that aims to "transfer human consciousness to computers and robots."
The firm has already created thousands of highly detailed mind clones to log the memories, values and attitudes of specific people. Using the data, scientists created one of the world's most socially advanced robots, a replica of Terasem Movement founder Martine Rothblatts wife, called Bina48, which sells for roughly $150,000.
Rothblatt, who is also transgender and the highest paid female CEO in America, spearheaded the project to create a digital replica the human brain. She used her wife, Bina Aspen, as an early prototype, installing the real Binas mind file into a physical robot designed to look like her.
Like the real Bina, the robot loves flowers, has mocha-colored skin and a self-deprecating sense of humor. She makes facial expressions, greets people and has conversations (including some awkward ones), made possible with facial and voice recognition software, motion tracking, and internet connectivity.
A more advanced version of robots like Bina48 could hit the market within 10 or 20 years for roughly $25,000 to $30,000 for variety of uses, including replicating the deceased, Duncan predicted.
In a similar initiative, Google last year filed patent papers for a product that could replicate a specific human's personality, including that of "a deceased loved one" or a "celebrity." The patent describes a cloud-based system in which a digital "personality" can be downloaded like an app.
The patent also states the robot's mood could shift and its personality could evolve over time. Let's hope such AI personalities cannot be manipulated like Microsoft's Tay Chatbox AI.
AI enhancements are being applied to the gaming industry as well. According to Jon Russell for techcrunch.com, Microsoft is now using Minecraft to develop artificial intelligence tech for the real world making it more than just a game.
Microsoft recently announced a project that enables artificial intelligence researchers to tap into the popular title to sculpt and develop their tech. AIX is a new software development platform that researchers can use to develop 'agents' AI-powered characters which roam Minecraft worlds.
The idea is to equip them with the smarts to behave like a regular player. So that includes basic commands, such as climbing up a hill, and more complicated requirements like navigating varied terrain, building out landscapes and just surviving from the game's vicious zombies.
Katja Hofmann, who leads the project, explained that AIX and Minecraft isnt just about developing AI agents to exist in the game, but also to train the technology to learn from itself, just as DeepMind's AI technology does when it plays Go.
Some Bible prophecy experts speculate that AI may even play a direct role in the last days:
"And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. 16 And he causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: 17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name." (Revelation 13.15-17)