One of my new favorite shows of the Summer is Humans on AMC. Humans “is set in the parallel present where the latest must-have gadget for any busy family is a ‘Synth’ – a highly developed robotic servant.” Every family has a Synth, but there are a group of these robots that have been programmed to have consciousness, feelings and free will. This makes for a good show and brings up the conflict, what if these robots could overtake humanity?
This got me thinking, like space travel, video chat, and a number of other former science fiction technologies made real, the robots are coming. In some ways, they’re already here (Amazon Echo), though they aren’t quite up to the level of humanoid artificial intelligence and function inherent in Rosey the Robot from the Jetsons just yet. But it’s only a matter of time.
Considering the level of addiction most people have for their smartphones, apps like Siri, home devices and wearables available today, consumers will certainly embrace the notion of a much more advanced and streamlined option: robots.
And the trend has already begun. Three personal robot projects – Buddy, Jibo, and Personal Robot were funded 2-3 times over their respective Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns (Jibo raised “~$2.3M and finish[ed] as the most successful technology campaign of all time on Indiegogo” according to their updates page).
All three of these up-and-coming personal robots have similar technology and functionality:
- Facial recognition
- Photo mode
- Various hands-free helper functions
- Messaging functions
- Integration with IoT and other devices
- Home security
And that’s just for starters. All but Jibo have the ability to move around the house (Jibo does have 360-degree viewing capability, but from a stationary position), offer a degree of emotions via natural language processing technology, and all three are proactive – able to offer assistance when it looks like you need it, versus the reactive functionality of Siri and Amazon Echo.
Still, they’re basically household helpers, able to tell you what day it is and set the alarm behind you when you leave.
But though they may not look it, these personal robots aren’t such a far cry from the likes of Rosey, or Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Mr. Data, or the Synths on AMC’s Humans – the type of independently useful and much bigger robots that are rapidly headed our way. Some day soon we WILL have robotic humans with AI that rivals any science fiction imaginings.
But are we ready for robots?
Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics,” found in both his Foundation Trilogy and 2004 movie, “I, Robot” offers some guidance when it comes to appropriately programming these advanced beings:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.”
The zeroth law, added later, broadens the nature of the First Law:
“0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.” [source: http://io9.com/why-asimovs-three-laws-of-robotics-cant-protect-us-1553665410]
These laws, made to serve a fictional universe constructed by Asimov, are often referenced in stories and movies about robots, and, as often, made to fail in some way. That’s fun when you’re watching a movie, but not something you want to happen in reality.
Could it? There are certainly those who don’t agree that Asimov’s laws work in the real world, though Asimov himself did defend their usefulness in reality.
Whichever side of the argument you fall on, one thing is certain: Whatever robots are able to do will come from us, so it’s humans’ responsibility to program and teach them well.
The learning has already begun
And we’ve already started. In addition to Siri being able to recognize and react to your voice and speech patterns, and the abilities of Buddy, Jibo and Personal Robot to adapt to a myriad of personal preferences, Microsoft has developed a new Machine Teaching Group where human experts in a variety of fields are teaching computers how to learn, helping the software become ever smarter.
This ability for computers to learn is crucial to the development of the high level, robotic AI SciFi has had us dreaming about (and dreading) for decades. But there are also other challenges in robotics – like enabling a robot to move autonomously, without bumping into a table, etc., as Robotbase (Personal Robot) Founder and CEO Duy Huynh discussed at BRITE conference earlier this year.
But there’s no doubt the challenges will be worked out – just like the challenges of moving from idea, to prototype, to sales worked out for the three robot designers above. And before long, we’ll all have our own personal Rosey the Robot. And hopefully not as our overloads.
Beyond that – who knows what can come next? I’ll be exploring that in my next post, so be sure to check back!