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Thursday, January 29, 2009

AI and Robots: Rise of the Machines -- Robotics Professors Discussing AI

Yes, they are coming, the robots and the intelligent machines, into every aspect of our lives. Is this good or bad? Are we understanding humanity better during the process? Or are we really digging our own graves?

Why are people so fascinated by robots? (I know my answer: I want build a robot that do all my work! :) Why do humans have such a dystopian view of the future where robots are concerned? These are some of the questions asked in an interview with Noel Sharkey,a Robotics and Artificial Intelligence professor at University of Sheffield, UK. When asked when the first mass produced robots will have a serious impact on society? Dr. Sharkey expressed his concerns about the advances of military robots. (Remember the Predator, Reaper robots we talked about recently?)

Every roboticists and AI researchers in the US know that the majority of the research in this field are driven by military funding and initiatives. The biggest one of them all is DARPA -- standing for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Many of you might not be aware that the Internet actually was created in a research program of ARPA (the earlier name for DARPA). As a matter of fact, part of my research is funded by the Army Research Lab. After all, there's not much different between Search and Rescue and Seek and Destroy.

I, and I believe a great number of other researchers, are strong believers of Azimov's Three Laws of Robotics, especially the first half of the first one:
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
Other other hand, I also must admit that the military driving force drove the advancement of technology, which benefits the entire human race. Just to name a few: the Internet, Satellites, cell networks. Therefore, the stance I take on this issue is that robotics and AI technologies developed for military purposes can also be used for normal people, and I shall work very hard to help make that into reality.

So how do we make sure we don't create the Terminator Scenario? Some people believe we should upgrade ourselves and turn ourselves into cyborgs (half human and half machine), so we still dominate the world, instead of robots. A robotics researcher friend of mine at NASA Ames (no mentioning names) holds this view, and a Robotics and Artificial Intelligence professor at the University of Redding, UK, is another strong believer.

My guess is that robots will become more capable and intelligent, and humans will also become more capable with wearable devices or implanted devices. There are already robotic suits enabling wearers to carry weights far exceeding human capabilities, and there are also robotic hands that connect directly to nerves in people's arms controllable by human brain. I am SERIOUSLY not joking about these things, and you'll reading more about them in my future blog posts (specifically under the Robot of the Day label).

Whether to rely on robots or becoming a cyborg is your own choice, but the time that you have to make that choice might not be very far in the future. There's at least one thing clear: We live in a very exciting era of the world, and we should enjoy it!!

Picture of the Day:

I actually have not seen this movie. Is it good?