We Were Promised Robots, But Human Beings Are Far More Interesting

Artificial intelligence has always been an exciting topic of research for media and science fiction. From day one we expected robots, similar to humans, that could do incredible things. The expectation: if cyborgs weren't serving at supermarket counters by 2020, AI as a field has in some way failed. But the future will probably look different.

To build something resembling a human being, we need to reverse engineer the human being and we are a long way away from being able to do that. As of today we still can't replicate simple human mechanics. Yes, we have a robot that can walk and yes, we can also get a robot to walk up stairs, but I am confident that primary school children can run faster than any current robot on feet.

The reason: we cannot build something we don’t fully understand. That has been the issue. We are trying to build a system to imitate something we don’t fully understand.

This does not mean AI has totally failed. We have systems in place that can do jobs with more precision, accuracy and repeatability than a human being can ever imagine to do. These ‘systems’ never go wrong in the way humans do.

The next question we should ask ourselves is this: is AI is at a dead end? And if so, what's next? This is a question Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer has attempted to answer. Facebook is building AI that will give superpowers to everyone, providing everyone with relevant information to make their everyday life easier. This is Intelligence Amplification (IA); something that was defined around the same time as AI but never got as much attention because AI has always been the buzz word.

IA, generally defined, is the empowerment of human intelligence. It is adding to the intelligence of humans to give them ‘superhuman’ capabilities.

Lately, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) seem to be merging and we are creating an artificial world where anything is possible. Imagine being able to enjoy a movie in your dream house which has not even been built. It is possible with VR and AR. But VR and AR are just visual technologies. What they visually display are complex algorithms in the processing core. This processing core is where the future of AI will be born.

AI will be used to enhance our capabilities, not build something like us. AI will help build complex discrete systems that help us perform better than the ‘hypothetical robots’ we thought will one day walk the streets and display the amazing powers of AI.

Today, in the current landscape, we are far from developing a ‘Bicentennial man’ but close enough to say we could, in the near future, have the capability to empower a human with powers like The Terminator.

As this happens the difficulty, as with any technology, will be in its governance. As technology empowers us, so will anti-social elements within our society. Imposing governance against illegal activities that make use of the most advanced technologies available, will be a challenge and we need to prepare against it.

It is fascinating to imagine: human beings are the future, not factory manufactured robots. We have and will continue to rule for many generations to come.

Alvin DMello is a PhD candidate currently studying at Queensland University of Technology.

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