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Overcoming our fears and avoiding robot overlords

Sharon Gaudin | Sept. 21, 2015
Computer scientists say fears shouldn't stunt research, but talk should go on now to make advances in artificial intelligence safer

abstract artificial intelligence

Some people are afraid that one day robots will rise up, sentient, working as a collective and angry enough to overthrow the human race.

Artificial intelligence (A.I.), and the robots it will empower, is something to fear, according to physicist and author Stephen Hawking and high-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Other scientists say the scariest thing is for our fears to stunt our research on A.I. and slow technical advances.

"If I fear anything, I fear humans more than machines," said Yolanda Gil, computer science research professor at the University of Southern California, speaking at DARPA's recent Wait, What? forum on future technologies. "My worry is that we'll have constraints on the types of research we can do. I worry about fears causing limitations on what we can work on and that will mean missed opportunities."

Gil and others at the forum want to discuss what the potential dangers of A.I. could be and begin setting up protections decades before any threats could become realities.

There's going to be a lot to talk about.

The average person will see more A.I. advances in their daily lives in the next 10 years than they did in the last 50, according to Trevor Darrell, a computer science professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Today, A.I. touches people's lives with technologies like Google search, Apple's intelligent assistant Siri and Amazon's book recommender.

Google also is testing self-driving cars, while the U.S. military has been given demonstrations of weaponized smart robots.

While some would think this already is the stuff of science fiction, it's just the beginning of a life filled with A.I., as the technology nears the cusp of a revolution in vision, natural-language processing and machine learning.

Combine that with advances in big data analysis, cloud computing and processing power and A.I. is expected to make dramatic gains in the next 10 to 40 years.

"We've seen a lot of progress, but it's now hitting a tipping point," Darrell told Computerworld. "In five or 10 years, we're going to have machines increasingly able to perceive and communicate with people and themselves, and have a basic understanding of their environments. You'll be able to ask your transportation device to take you to the Starbucks with the shortest line and best lattes."

For instance, today, a home owner might need a small group of people to move her furniture around. With A.I. and robotics, in 10 or years so, the home owners might have furniture that could understand her voice commands, self-actuate and move to where it is told to go.


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