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Robots and AI won't cost you your job anytime soon

Sarah K. White | Nov. 1, 2016
The growth of artificial intelligence was a hot topic at this year’s MIT Technology Review's EmTech conference, but if you're concerned that robots are about you take your job, rest easy. They aren't.

MIT Technology Review's EmTech conference is all about looking to the future of tech and what's more futuristic than artificial intelligence? If you are up to date with the latest news on AI, or maybe you've just watched a few episodes of HBO's Westworld, you might be wondering how soon your job will be replaced by a robot. But if the presentation at MIT 's EmTech conference this year is any indication, while artificial intelligence is at an impressive point, we're still far off from robot domination.

To emphasize that point, Dileep George, co-founder of Vicarious, an organization working on next-generation AI algorithms, showed video of robots falling over in silly situations in his presentation, Artificial Intelligence at Work. The footage not only got some laughs, it also highlighted the vast limitations of current robotics. According to George, it's not that we don't have the hardware to create intelligent robots, it's that we don't have the software to make robots intelligent enough to do something as simple as fall down correctly. Instead, most robots unnaturally tense up and fall to the ground from a mere push.

He likens it to when a Roomba gets itself trapped in the corner of a room -- which George also demonstrated on video -- the device isn't smart enough to figure out how to get itself out of that situation. Current robot intelligence is essentially on par with that of lower-level creatures that still have the "old brain," such as reptiles, rodents, birds and fish. He gave the example of a frog trying to catch bugs on an iPhone display -- the frog sees the insects crawling on the screen and continues to try to capture them, never realizing it's impossible.

Robots function a lot like reptile brains. Technology hasn't come far enough in biomimicry to create the right movements, expressions and thought patterns to bring AI to where it can work alone. Current AI technology, whether it's an actual robot or just software, almost always need a human guide. At best, robots are relegated to one specific task that they can repeat multiple times.

Robots can't help us yet

Stefanie Tellex, assistant professor of said we don't have robots that can do much for us yet. We have autonomous cars and drones, but we don't have robots that can do chores for us or even navigate real-life environments without human assistance.

"We'd like them to be able to get us a cup of coffee, peel a banana or give you a Kleenex when you have a cold," she says. And beyond our homes, she points out that these types of robots would do a lot for us in environments like labs or even the international space station.


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