November 29, 2017

Intelligent Robots: Are They a Threat to Humans?

Intelligent RobotsThe Master Mystery—a motion picture released in 1919, is where humans got a first glimpse of intelligent or AI robots. Since the term ‘robot’ was not part of any dictionary until 1920, the robot in the movie was called ‘Automaton’. Automaton is what inspired other filmmakers to come up with their own AI robots, with the extremely likable ‘R2D2’ and the threat to humankind ‘The Terminator’ being the prominent names. Today, robots are not fiction, but a reality. However, they are yet to become mainstream. So, the million-dollar question is when they do become mainstream, will robots peacefully co-exist with humans or will they be a threat to the latter? Let’s explore!

Of late, many articles by people in tech (but not in AI), have appeared in the mainstream press speculating the potential dangers of developing AI robots. According to these articles, we should be worried at the very least about the threat the intelligent robots pose to humanity. To all techies writing such articles, I would say chill—AI robots (and bots) aren’t as bad as you portray them to be.

The skepticism about intelligent robots that these techies have in their mind stems from some basic misunderstandings of how progress is being made in AI, and from a misinterpretation of how far we are from having intelligent beings that act based on will or intention. So, are intelligent robots a threat to humans? To answer this, we need to get a good understanding of what AI is and how it is being used today first.

How is AI Being Used Today

Artificial or AI is making rapid progress whether it is self-driving cars such as Waymo or voice-powered virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa. Watch Sci-Fi films and you’d think that AI or intelligent robots are somewhat like humans. However, the technology powering them can be found from anything such as autonomous weapons to intelligent computer systems to search engines.

Since it can only perform narrow tasks such as driving a car, searching the internet or recognizing faces and fingerprints, the artificial intelligence existing today is referred to as narrow or weak AI. However, researchers and scientists are working towards creating strong AI in the future. While the existing AI can defeat humans at specific tasks, strong AI would be able to outperform us at almost everything and this is the reason many people in the tech-industry consider intelligent robots as a threat to humanity.

How Modern Robots Behave

One of the best ways to determine whether intelligent robots are a threat to humans is understanding the robotics field and how modern robots behave. Much more than just an AI research field, robotics is where all AI areas can be tested and meshed into a final result. The most sophisticated robots can walk, run, and go up and down the stairs in an extremely smooth manner. Additionally, to protect themselves from falling or get back up, they use their hands just like us humans.

AI robots represent the enormous amount of money being spent on R&D in the field of electronics, and technological development. Often, a fixed number of pre-programmed instructions are what the robots’ behavior contain and these instructions are repeated regardless of any environmental changes. Contrary to popular belief, these robots have not exhibited intelligent behavior as they cannot adapt and don’t have autonomy to the changing environment. Well, not yet.

Yes, robots are amazing in what they do, but just because they can move in a manner similar to humans, one should not jump to the conclusion that robots can do everything that humans are capable of. Once you reach this realization, it will be easier for you to accept that intelligent robots are not a threat to humans—at least not in their current form.


What Makes Robots Intelligent Beings

As mentioned earlier, robots exist in a variety of forms and not just in the form we see in Sci-Fi films. For instance, AI technology or robots are used in computing to minimize the chances of error and achieve greater precision and accuracy. Other fields where you will find the application of AI intelligence or intelligent robots includes space exploration, painstaking activities, underground excavations, smartphones, computer games and many others.

In space exploration, intelligent robots help explore the space. Here, the AI robots used are designed in a way to ensure that aren’t affected—either physically or in function, by the planetary atmosphere. In addition to space exploration, intelligent robots can perform many laborious or painstaking activities that have been assumed by humans in the past. Using AI robots for painstaking activities is considered by many people as a great way to overcome the limitations of humans.

One of the most common applications of intelligence robots or AI technology is smartphones. Where will their application in smart phones? You will find it in GPS and Maps apps and in virtual assistants such as Siri. While intelligent robots can be applied in many fields, they do have some limitations. For example, intelligent robots are not advanced enough to perform certain tasks such as ironing a shirt or making tea autonomously.

There are a lot of other things that robots cannot perform as well. The limitations in the intelligent behavior of robots is evidence enough that they are not a threat to humans and things are bound to stay the same for the foreseeable future.

Are intelligent robots a threat to humans? Considering what’s been said above, one would have to say No. Things may change in the future, but we will have to wait for it. For now, just enjoy and benefit from all the good that AI technology and intelligent robots have to offer to you and the world.

by Bobby J Davidson

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