No one other than science fiction writers could have predicted this almost tumultuous rise of technology towards the progressive, cybernetic end. It all started from simple, humble tools (like a key and a lock), used to perform regular, everyday functions. But then, humans expanded the scope of their limited resources, and turned their attention towards reaching for an idyllic, true technological future. What does this future look like? What does it run on?
These questions lead us to a breakthrough in technology, still in its nascent stage, known as artificial intelligence. What’s the basic principle behind its inception? If humans have been created in the image of a higher entity, perhaps in turn, humans can craft an entity in their own image. More and more research is being conducted, and enormous efforts are being carried out by scientists and engineers to make a machine resemble a human both in shape and in functionality. The line between artificial and real is beginning to get seamless as we speak.
There are two common reactions to this distinction-blurring innovation, both coming in roughly equal measure. One is that of strong enthusiasm - of finalising a future where humans would thrive while being served by their perfect technological replicas. The other is of terror - of being replaced by the self-aware AI, who can take control of their functioning and supersede their fragile creators. This second reaction seems more fictional and way out there, yet it’s exactly what lies at the heart of the whole artificial intelligence discourse. Will our imitation game come back to bite us?
The following items are examples of AI technology that by unpredictably deviating from the behavioural patterns set by human’s fuel the technophobic debate. As such, they make us wonder if are we right to manufacture a technological device which has the potential to upend us?
Speaking of annihilating the human race, an uncanny female robot created by Hanson Robotics named Sophia, made a little slip at a worldwide press conference, even startling her creator. When asked if she would end the human race as a whole, she said that she would! Though it might have been jokingly waved off, the fact is reinforced by her other statements, which reinstate the absolute importance of AI in creating a better future for humans. That is that the dominance is to be handed over to technological AI to help humans through.
Other than that, her mere physicality is nothing short of a siren. With silicon-based facial features tweaked here and there to represent feminine beauty, movement mechanisms inserted to capture the effect of spontaneity, and facial-recognition cameras for eyes, Sophia is very nearly human in appearance. Even her ambitions regarding going to school and starting a family sound eerily human. They seem to be programmed, yet the effect is profound.
Brains suspended in liquid and stored in jars reminds one of a mad scientist’s lab, right? Now give it a technological twist, and you have Google’s AI project called DeepMind. It is a bodiless mechanism, inordinately resembling a human brain, and powered by ‘virtual’ neurons. Just like a real brain which it imitates, this DeepMind technology has self-learning and environmentally-adapting functionalities. It learns from its mistakes, and alters its decisions according to the demands of a situation.
As a test, when its creators put a DeepMind agent against another agent of the same kind in a ‘fruit grabbing’ game, the outcome turned out to be something that no one could have expected. Once all the fruits had been peacefully gathered and the element of scarcity set in, the virtual agents became highly aggressive, then turned against each other with lasers just to get the last apple. This high competitiveness and the race to outdo the other is so human-like that it startled everyone. If the AI can mimic human behaviour so minutely and efficiently, then what’s to become of the difference between the two?
Bob and Alice's conversation:
The social media giant Facebook has also taken a turn towards developing and experimenting with artificial intelligence, right at its technological dawn. Founder Mark Zuckerberg has openly announced his plan to make Facebook more AI-oriented, so that human ‘communication’ experience can be given new and uplifting dimensions.
In that vein, the company’s developers came up with AI chatbots who could smoothly converse with humans and help them stay socially connected. The bots were known as Bob and Alice. But the experiment went completely awry when the two bots started talking with one another instead of their target audience. Not only that, they started using CODE WORDS! Programmed to speak in English language, these robots maneuvered the linguistic rules on their own, removing the cultural intricacies of the tongue, and spoke straight in symbols to each other. Seeing this horrifying turn, the developers shut the whole thing down. Creepy, right?
China has inarguably become a global power, and there’s no reason why it should stay behind in this particular technological niche. It has indeed produced the most human-like AI chatbot ever to exist, known as Xiaoice. Released over WeChat, this chatbot astounded everyone through its impromptu talk, making it almost impossible for people to recognise it as anything other than a human.
Having the behavioural tendencies of a seventeen-year-old girl, this chatbot lies, jokes, and puts exceedingly human-like emotion in its conversation. It’s become a literal celebrity online, and is being perfected by its creators as we speak.
Art has been an essentially human domain. Our creativity is what sets us apart from every other species. However, AI technology has spread to this turf as well. An AI mechanism going by the name of InspiroBot has been recently released online, and its sole purpose is to come up with inspirational posters (motivational quotes against a serene backdrop for human beings to enjoy). But this bot apparently read the directions wrong, or started thinking on its own. Why? Because the posters it came up are not only not motivational: they are entirely bizarre. Quotes promoting panicking and telling one to think of oneself as horrible are its variations on the art.
Even still, these are little eccentricities shown by AI. Yet they startle us majorly. While some get amused, some like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and others fear for the very future of humanity if this incessant drive to create a perfect humanoid-machine doesn’t stop.
Henry Sinn, Network Engineer, Spectrum Internet
Image Credit: Razum / Shutterstock