TechMunch: Artificial Intelligence: should we fear the rise of the machines?

Robots used to be a thing of the sci-fi world, but this is rapidly changing. Artificial intelligence (AI), the development of machines that can carry out tasks normally only human intelligence is capable of, has progressed a lot over the last few years, making robot technology much more advanced.

So advanced, that it has been reported that Japan is opening its doors to a new robot staffed hotel, where robot humanoids (that blink) respond to human body language and recognise eye contact, will greet and check you in. Guests have no contact with human staff throughout their stay; everything is carried out by robots (including an English speaking dinosaur… for reasons that aren’t entirely clear).

While a robot-run hotel could certainly offer some novelty value for guests (and efficiency gains for the business) opinions are divided as to how the development of AI will affect us all.

Stephen Hawkins has already voiced his concerns about AI getting out of control and the true danger of robots that could one day dominate over or even end the human race. Hawkins warns that AI could lead to robots taking off without humans, re-designing themselves and the reproducing at a rate that humans have no hope in catching up with.

It’s not just Hawkins that’s worried, Telsa cofounder Elson Musk has warned of killer robots, something that may sound great to sci-fi fanatics, but isn’t as appealing to the rest of us.  Musk and Hawkins warn that these super intelligent robots could even become a reality in the next few years if development of AI is not carefully monitored. In fact, over 1,000 top robotic researchers, experts and scientists have signed a letter voicing their concerns over AI warfare and a military AI arms race.

However, there are others who maintain that we shouldn’t be too concerned about a robot apocalypse – whatever Hollywood and a few notable figures say. MIT Media Lab’s Rosalind Picard reminds the public that we haven’t yet made robots as smart as pets, so we have a long way to go until human intelligence is replicated in robot form.

And it seems pretty clear that, looking at recent history, the benefits of technological advances such as AI have far outweighed the downsides. A study released this month by Deloitte examined the relationship between jobs and the rise of technology and found that, overall, technological progress has helped create more jobs and value for the economy than have been lost through automation. As the report argues; “machines will take on more repetitive and laborious tasks, but seem no closer to eliminating the need for human labour than at any time in the last 150 years.”

So for now it seems that, despite some high-profile scaremongering, there is little reason to fear an imminent Terminator-style apocalypse… unless they persuade Arnie to make yet another sequel of course. That really would give us cause to fear the future.

Frankie Collins, Intern, Technology