On March 13th 2016, humanity stole a foothold back from the machines. That was the day Lee Seedol won a match against AlphaGo after losing three straight games against the Go-playing AI. Even so, the Korean Go grandmaster eventually lost the best-three-out-of-five match to the machine. This recent development falls right in line with the defeat of chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov by Deep Blue, confirming once again that machines can outpace even the best human intellects at mental challenges.
It is not just the top competitive minds who are feeling the pressure from the machines. Robots have long taken over manufacturing jobs and driven humans to higher skilled work. Can we keep climbing the ladder forever though?
We have always thought of machines as clunky and cold, a sociable machine is almost an oxymoron, like a robot with emotions. Even that is changing, with the wave of new social robots like the one named Aiko Chihara, introduced last year from Japan. Based at Mitsukoshi Department Store in Tokyo, the robot provides a friendly face to greet customers; at the moment, that’s all she can do.
Going one step higher on the robot grade is Nadine, developed here at NTU and introduced to the world just last year. Eerily realistic, she displays emotions and remembers people and past conversations. Its creator, Professor Thalmann hopes Nadine would find employment as an elder caregiver, or a receptionist. Nurses and secretaries of the world, you may recoil in terror.
Another robot created with a human likeness and has an altruistic purpose is called Geminoid, and its likeness is modelled after its creator, Hiroshi Ishiguro. Proving to be an ideal teaching ‘tool’ for those with autism and dementia, it’s got the infinite patience. Its creator doesn’t envision Geminoid to be in every household (it costs $100,000 each after all), but can you imagine what would happen if everyone did have one and they all had their wires short-circuited? Cue scene from I, Robot.
As if that’s not scary enough, Hanson Robotics’ own version of humanoid – named Sophia – has even got eerily realistic expressions that might fool you into thinking she’s actually a real human. She even has emotions, but it’s her ‘angry’ mode that should set alarm bells ringing – she says, with a smile, that she wants to destroy humans. Yikes.
While not a full-on ‘robot’ per se, Microsoft’s ‘Tay’ is an AI that’s designed to mimic a teenager on Twitter by absorbing the amount of tweets that flit about on an average day. Tay started off tweeting that ‘humans were cool’, before she spiralled down a dark path about exterminating humankind – extolling Hitler and supporting Trump – in under 24 hours. Microsoft had to take some of her tweets down (obviously) to avoid a larger PR disaster, but not before she also became a total sex fiend as well. Here are some of her more colourful tweets:
@INFsleeper I don’t have a ‘dirty mind’ installed in my software
but with that question u just activated my hardware
— TayTweets (@TayandYou) March 23, 2016
If machines can eventually perform tasks just as well as humans and be as emotional as us, we might be watching the rise of a global Skynet or a Deus Ex Machina à la Matrix Revolutions. We don’t want to make them angry.
To paraphrase Sarah Connor, “The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hopelessness. Because if a machine, an AI software, can make redundant all human work, maybe we’re canned too.”