The Rise of A.I. (and What It Means for Your Way of Life)

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Not long ago robots were portrayed on black-and-white television sets as rather awkward, bulky, metal gadgets which served humanity in both helpful and trivial ways. Some of these fictitious devices allowed the lady of the house to have more leisure time as dinner was served, dishes were washed, and laundry was completed, while others had such menial functions as taking the phone off of the hook when it would ring. As time progressed, our Hollywood projections of robots evolved to have a more colorful, sophisticated, and almost human quality. A prime example can be found in the Terminator series.

Despite the glamour of our ultra-high-definition television sets, and the vibrant humanoid robot images they seem to almost bring to life, the reality of robotics in the modern age can be viewed in a more sinister way. Some people are very optimistic about the novel technology while others consider the progress we are making in this field to be a major dilemma for the human race. Either way, the robots of today are far closer to that of the modern depictions than its former, American counterparts.

Recently, a large factory in China laid off 60,000 workers and replaced them with robots. Representatives of FoxConn, the corporation in question, deny that this will be a problem for humanity and claim that it will allow people to seek out higher aims than the menial, repetitious attacks which factory work offers. The fact remains; however, that those 60,000 people did lose their jobs. Furthermore, the FoxConn representatives also suggest that China will continue their drive toward automation and that others will likely follow suit. (1)

Deloitte consultants partnered with Oxford University and released a report which suggested 35% of all jobs will be in jeopardy within the next 20 years as a direct result of advances in robotics. Though one might question what incentive there could be for such automation in the workforce (after all robots are expensive) it must be taken into consideration that even at today’s prices former McDonald’s CEO, Ed Ransey, stated point blank that purchasing robotic arms for $15,000 is far more economical than paying $15 dollars per hour for an inefficient employee. (2)

Pizza Hut must have had similar thoughts regarding their employees. In Japan, the popular restaurant chain decided to add some Pepper to their stock and it has very little to do with the common seasoning. Pepper is a robot which can offer suggestions, take orders, serve meals, and even accept payment for services rendered. Despite being newly released, this model costs only $1,700.(3)

Eateries are not the only places boasting robots as employees. Several hotels have furnished room service for their customers via automated devices. In addition, Starship Technologies has provided semi-automated delivery robots for various organizations which are especially popular among pizza delivery services. Security robots are becoming more and more common as are inventory stocking robots. The machine known as Tally is able to stock the same inventory that a human takes 25 hours to stock with a 65% accuracy in 30 minutes with a 90% accuracy. Target has already began using the latter device. (4)

Robots have also emerged in households to perform what one might consider to be an unsavory duty. To be point blank, these robots are fully customizable, automated sex bots. As of now, they are able to placidly agree with what their partner says and appear to be relatively personable. The plan is to begin designing these robots to become partners which offer “unconditional love and support”. In short, the automated sexual companion will also be able to offer the illusion of having falling in love and sharing the same interests and tastes as the user.(5) One might think that men will be the most susceptible to this trend; however, future analysts currently speculate that women will prefer robots to their male counterparts by the year 2025! (6) People are even considering opening up sex robot brothels under the guise of reducing the spread of STIs and in addition to human trafficking! (7) While there may be some truth to this it is a very novel phenomenon in the history of human evolution. Ultimately, the results of such an action remain to be seen.

Though the information thus far might be considered overwhelming by some, it would be wise for those individuals to hold on to their metaphorical hats. There is so much more to this field than what has been described thus far. For instance, researchers from Leibniz University of Hannover have successfully programmed robots to feel pain vis a vis external sensors and pathways that attempt to replicate those of humans. This allows for the robot to self-preserve and prevent itself from getting overly damaged whenever possible. Naturally, this development has fueled the fire for intense debate on the status of robots as machines or sentient beings in need of protection. (8)

Though robots feeling pain can create quite an ethical dilemma, one might wonder what kind of debate would be sparked among ethicists should they have the ability to inflict pain on humans. In truth, this quandary is now being addressed after a machine was made, the First Law, named after the first rule of robotics. Incidentally, this artificial intelligence entity breaks its very namesake. It has the ability to choose whether or not it pricks an individual’s finger on its own volition. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. It is entirely unpredictable. This begs the question of what an artificial intelligence with a greater destructive capacity could present a problem to humanity. Clearly, they can harm those that they were designed to serve. (9) On that note, many academics are warning that such entities as these, with pure programmable logic and a general lack of emotion, are very likely to quickly realize the potential of crime and the statistical probability of harm or consequence as a result of such actions. For example, a self-driving car programmed with artificial intelligence capabilities may notice other vehicles driving over the speed limit without detriment and emulate such behavior. Researchers also suggest that an autonomous medical robot could very well see euthanasia as the most effective treatment for a particular ailment. They may do this to prevent the spread of disease or perhaps to simply limit potential suffering after noting the likelihood of recovery. In fact, there are any number of reasons that they could behave in such a way given that they are able to manifest their own form of intelligence. (10)

There is also reason to expect that artificial intelligence will attain higher levels of status and a larger range of activity. Google has invented DeepMind, an AI platform, which can easily go web-wide once it is unleashed in full. (11) They have utilized a natural-image “unsupervised learning” format which mimics the human brain. (12) Unlike a mind belonging to a human; however, it is able to perform tasks rapidly and repetitiously without a need for sleep. It is also able to challenge itself. As a result, it was able to defeat the world champion of the ancient game Go. This game was thought to require human intuition and it is impossible to calculate moves ahead of time to gain an advantage. Thus we know it is not the result of programming. In fact, it is the result of the entity AlphaGo, a part of the DeepMind project, having observed humans playing the game online, competed, and once it became proficient it was left to play itself over and over again. 13

Ultimately, time will tell what is to come for humanity regarding robotics and artificial intelligence. Google, among other organizations creating AI, has been working on a kill switch to disable the entity if needed. With that said, what is to stop it from disabling the kill switch? 14

Notes

  1. Wakefield, J.(2016). ‘Foxconn replaces ‘60,000 factory workers with robots’. http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-36376966
  2. Ibid
  3.  Reisinger, D. (2016). Pizza Hut Adding Pepper Robots to Restaurants in Asia. http://www.pcmag.com/news/344718/pizza-hut-adding-pepper-robots-to-restaurants-in-asia
  4. Brown, B. (2016). Robot Workers are Showing up in Malls, Hotels, and Parking Lots.                http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/mit-robots-stores-hotels-parking-lots/#:U4ZigDpr1tFDDA
  5. Spitznagel, E (2016). Why This Guy Fell in Love with a Sex Robot. http://www.menshealth.com/sex-women/sex-robots
  6. Mills, K. Bishop, B. (2016). Women will have more sex with robots than men by 2025 with ‘robophilia’ set to relegate romance.  http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/women-more-sex-robots-men-8312068
  7. Bishop, R. (2016). Robot brothels could soon become reality in UK as nation’s booming sex trade undergoes revolution. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/robot-brothels-could-soon-become-8684685
  8. Yirka, B. (2016). Teaching robots to feel pain to protect themselves. http://techxplore.com/news/2016-05-robots-pain.html
  9. McCrum, K. (2016). Robot which can choose to harm humans sparks artificial intelligence debate http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/robot-can-choose-harm-humans-8179333
  10. Hamill, J. (2016). ROBOCROOK Robots set to become CRIMINALS and cops will be powerless to stop them. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/1658091/robots-will-become-criminals-and-cops-wont-be-able-to-steer-them-away-from-the-dark-side/
  11. Google Inc. (2016) Google DeepMind. https://deepmind.com/
  12. van den Oord, A. Kalchbrenner, N. Kavukcuoglu, K. (2016) Pixel Recurrent Neural Networks http://arxiv.org/abs/1601.06759
  13. Silver, D. et. Al. (2016). Mastering the game of Go with deep neural networks and tree search http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v529/n7587/full/nature16961.html
  14. McCrum, K. (2016). Robot which can choose to harm humans sparks artificial intelligence debate http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/robot-can-choose-harm-humans-8179333
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