TechMunch: The robotic revolution: dystopia or utopia?

TechMunch, our series on all things tech returns with a look at artificial intelligence. Is it friend? Is it foe? Account Executive Aris Erdogdu takes a closer look.

Technology is transformative. It has, without a doubt, revolutionised countless industries and forever changed the way businesses are run and lives are led. Today, at the heart of the latest technological revolution is artificial intelligence (AI).

Over the last year, there seems to have been a rise in skepticism over AI, machine learning and the potential robots have in taking over our jobs, or even ‘wipe out’ the entire human race. While we’re more than happy for robots and smart learning machines to help us out in our daily tasks, the AI industry seems to be growing at such a rate – and inspiring so much media attention – that it’s already making some people uncomfortable.

According to a recent survey, a quarter of British workers believe a robot will replace their job in the next ten years, while almost half believe this will happen in the next 40 years. So, are robots really going to take over our jobs? For most of us, the answer is no.

AI takes many forms and functions but, while we’ve successfully programmed machines to clean our floors, set alarms on our phones or park our cars, programming something to think and react like a human is far more difficult. It turns out that things like introspection, self-awareness and even humour are not so easy to replicate.

However, AI is certainly moving forward at a fast pace, as is the field of robotics. Just a few months ago, a Google computer managed to beat a world champion at Go, one of the most complex board games out there and driverless cars will be taking to the roads in a matter of months.

So, where exactly do we stand on AI and robotics in particular? As humans, we have a tendency to get carried away when facing external ‘threats’, and it is no different when it comes to robots. Yes, this robotic revolution will possibly mean the loss of some jobs, but that being said, the increasing use of robots in itself will also give birth to new jobs, and allow for new industries to flourish. It is also important to bear in mind that no matter how evolved technology is, the thought process and sense of logic that we humans have been gifted with will be very difficult – if not impossible – to replicate. How can we instill feelings such as trust, loyalty and intimacy into machines? According to Maggie Boden, professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Sussex, we can’t.

Every revolution leads to changes, and inevitably, this robotic revolution has brought about some changes of its own. But rather than fearing them, we should embrace those changes, for although robots are developing at a fast pace, ultimately, they will only go as fast – or far – as we allow them. The AI of today is task-centric and essentially mindless, but it’s busily improving our lives nonetheless, so rather than dismissing tomorrow’s robots, perhaps we should see what they have to offer?

Aris Erdogdu, Account Executive, Technology