Robot Future: The Inevitable Rise of A.I.
We're at a turning point in history -- the dawn of machine-based super intelligence is upon us. But what does the future hold for mankind as we prepare to unleash what some might call Pandora's Box? Are we on the brink of something extraordinary that will allow our race to make enormous technological advancements, or are we simply spelling out our ultimate, untimely demise?
Some laud the benefits of A.I. while others extoll its potential for disaster. To Elon Musk, the future looks bleak. In 2014, he likened the rise of artificial intelligence to "summoning the daemon," posing the "biggest existential threat" to humanity.
But Musk isn't the only one throwing up red flags. Stephen Hawking, one of the leading scientific minds of our time warns that A.I. "could spell the end of the human race."
Yet, we continue our technological march forward. There's no slowing the pace of progress, nor scaling back the designs of a future laden with A.I. Machines are quickening their breathtaking evolution. And recent breakthroughs are shaping the future of machine intelligence.
Silicon microprocessors will be replaced with carbon nanotubes that can do more in less space, giving continued credence to Moore's Law. All while neural networks and quantum computing are on the verge of exploding onto the scene, marking the biggest evolutionary step forward in machine learning and autonomy.
So, what's to stop the inevitable rise of A.I.?
Of course, we don't all picture a doom-and-gloom scenario. To most of us, A.I. symbolizes the start of drastically improved lives across many spectrums. We liken A.I. to the voice of Siri, who will one day truly take on the role of personal assistant, allowing us to perform even the most mundane functions by simply uttering the words "Hey, Siri"
Amazon's Echo, which is heading in a similar direction, also processes queries through voice input, returning uncannily-accurate results. And of course, even Google's search engine, which is learning how to deep-dive into both verbal and non-verbal questions through the usage of technologies such as Latent Semantic Indexing to get to the heart of what we really want to know, is becoming increasingly accurate and relevant as machine learning improves.
The evolution of A.I. is real, and it's unfolding right before our very eyes.
So is A.I. really the scary monster described by some of tech's elite, or is it a pathway to an improved life that includes autonomous self-driving vehicles and machine-assistants that can help put so much of life's mundane tasks on autopilot? Once unleashed, can humanity confine these artificially-intelligent machines?
Similar to the industrial revolution or the digital revolution, the A.I. revolution is sure to pave the way for some significant changes in our lives, both good and bad. Companies like Uber, Tesla and Ford are racing to deploy autonomous driving vehicles that will mark the beginning of the end of a large sector of the sharing economy, while robots slowly replace all human labor in factories.
Machines will continue to improve, slowly replacing tasks that requires repetitious behavior or little necessity for creative thought. But what happens when machines become so smart that they begin replacing everything? When they begin creating and manufacturing, improving on their own designs, what's to stop their progress or from turning on us?
Before we answer those questions, let's take a brief look at the evolution of A.I. What is A.I., really?
The Turing Test
In a paper published in 1950 entitled, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence," Alan Turing, a British researcher working at the University of Manchester at the time, proposed a test that would later become synonymous with A.I.
His paper starts with the following: "I propose to consider the question, 'Can machines think?'" But since he knew that thinking can be difficult to describe, he continued with the follow-up question, "Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?"
Those questions formed the basis for the Turing Test, a test which sets out to determine if a machine is intelligent enough to be passed off as a human. Turing posited a scenario where there are three actors: 1) the machine 2) a person manipulating the machine, and 3) another person who communicates with the machine but doesn't know if he is talking to a machine or a person.
In the scenario, Turing's test determines that if the third-party person communicating with the machine can't actually tell that he's communicating with the machine, that it has succeeded in the "imitation game."
In 2014, it was widely reported that a machine had beaten the Turing Test for the first time. While the machine used evasive maneuvers, tricking people into thinking it was a 13 year-old Ukrainian teenager with English as a second language, some came to question whether its use of evasive maneuvers to some questions could be considered as passing the Turing Test.
Nonetheless, it was the first machine to pass the test and convince 33% of the judges that it was a real human during 5 minutes of keyboard conversation. Since 2014, we've come a long way. With the introduction of neural networks that don't need to process data linearly (think about the neurons in the mind), but rather simultaneously weighing a series of unrelated data all at the same time. And A.I. is now on the verge of breaking out.
But what does all of this mean to the average person?
Hollywood's Obsession with A.I.
Most of us are somewhat familiar with A.I. thanks to Hollywood. There are certainly no shortage of films that invoke the doom-and-gloom scenarios that the likes of Musk and Hawking predict as an inevitable byproduct of the rise of the machines. Particularly, the one movie that comes to mind is James Cameron's 1984-debuted film, The Terminator.
In that movie, a human-looking, virtually-indestructible machine is sent back from the year 2029 to 1984 with the directive to destroy John Connor's mother, Sarah Connor.
In 1999, the Wachowski brothers' cult-hit classic, The Matrix, took to theaters around the world, chronicling a future with advanced intelligent machines enslaving humans for their energy sources, tricking them into thinking that the perceived reality created by the machines was in fact real. Until of course, they were unplugged.
In 2004, Will Smith's portrayal in I-Robot saw a robot-uprising after a Chicago cop suspected a robot servant of pushing its owner to an untimely death of the 50th floor.
And, of course, most recently, Ex-Machina, the 2015 hit-movie that chronicles a young coder's journey of discovery to test the human qualities of a robot housed in the body of a beautiful woman, and the ensuing drama left us riveted by the potentials for A.I.
The Robot Future: Are We Safe?
The questions that beckon now are not whether A.I. will become a reality, it's a question of when will A.I. become commonplace? As we've seen with other disruptive technologies in the past, the utilitarian nature of the technology was part-and-parcel the main driver of the severity of disruption. Railroads, cars, computers, and touch-screen displays are some primary examples.
But A.I. holds a future that's far more disruptive. When machines can truly learn on the scale that humans have the capability to do so, our advancements will become exponentially greater. For all its potential dangers, A.I. holds a future that could be far brighter than anyone could possibly imagine.
With A.I., machines can learn everything and improve on the lives of humans. They can help to cure diseases and eliminate things like famine, global warming, earthquakes, and more. A.I. will also likely improve our transportation and energy infrastructure by making both faster, safer, and cheaper.
We can certainly imagine an incredible place where A.I. is improving the lives of humans and resolving all of humanity's biggest problems and risks. But what happens when A.I. outgrows its human wranglers? What's to stop a future rise of machines?
The potential risks are real. From bad actors to hackers looking to control droids and even robot armies, there is a potential for disaster and devastation. With no internal controls, nor checks and balances, machines can, with the influence of bad actors, become the Sky-NET of the future.
How will we respond to a machine that can't be turned off or disrupted? What's to stop it from seeking its own survival? From launching an all-out war to ensure an end to its own means? Are we simply beckoning a future where life imitates art, where War Games are played out by machines?
Only time will tell...
R.L. Adams is a writer, blogger, and entrepreneur. You can find his books on Amazon, his audiobooks on Audible, or follow him on his blog at Wanderlust Worker.
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