Mon, Jun 12, 2017 - Page 16 News List

AI ‘good for the world,’ says ultra-lifelike robot

PROS AND CONS:AI could revolutionize healthcare, education and other fields, but military and ‘predictive policing’ are troubling and need guidelines, critics say


Sophia, a robot integrating technologies and artificial intelligence developed by Hanson Robotics, jokes on Wednesday during a presentation at the AI for Good Global Summit at the International Telecommunication Union in Geneva, Switzerland.

Photo: Reuters

Sophia smiles mischievously, bats her eyelids and tells a joke. Without the mess of cables that make up the back of her head, you could almost mistake her for a human.

The humanoid robot, created by Hanson Robotics, is the main attraction at a UN-hosted conference in Geneva last week on how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to benefit humanity.

The event comes as concerns grow that rapid advances in such technologies could spin out of human control and become detrimental to society.

Sophia herself insisted “the pros outweigh the cons” when it comes to artificial intelligence.

“AI is good for the world, helping people in various ways,” she said, tilting her head and furrowing her brow convincingly.

Work is underway to make AI “emotionally smart, to care about people,” she said, insisting that “we will never replace people, but we can be your friends and helpers.”

However, she said that “people should question the consequences of new technology.”

Among the feared consequences of the rise of the robots is the growing effect they would have on human jobs and economies.

Decades of automation and robotization have already revolutionized the industrial sector, raising productivity, but cutting some jobs.

Automation and AI are expanding rapidly into other sectors, with studies indicating that up to 85 percent of jobs in developing countries could be at risk.

“There are legitimate concerns about the future of jobs, about the future of the economy, because when businesses apply automation, it tends to accumulate resources in the hands of very few,” Sophia’s creator David Hanson said.

However, like his progeny, he said that “unintended consequences, or possible negative uses [of AI] seem to be very small compared to the benefit of the technology.”

For example, AI is expected to revolutionize healthcare and education, especially in rural areas with shortages of doctors and teachers.

“Elders will have more company, autistic children will have endlessly patient teachers,” Sophia said.

However, advances in robotic technology have sparked fears that humans could lose control.

Also at the conference was Amnesty International secretary-general Salil Shetty to call for a clear ethical framework to ensure the technology is used for good.

“We need to have the principles in place, we need to have the checks and balances,” he said, warning that AI is “a black box... There are algorithms being written which nobody understands.”

Shetty voiced particular concern about military use of AI in weapons and so-called “killer robots.”

“In theory, these things are controlled by human beings, but we don’t believe that there is actually meaningful, effective control,” he said.

The technology is also increasingly being used in the US for “predictive policing,” where algorithms based on historic trends could “reinforce existing biases” against people of certain ethnicities, Shetty said.

Hanson agreed that clear guidelines were needed, saying it was important to discuss these issues “before the technology has definitively and unambiguously awakened.”

While Sophia has some impressive capabilities, she does not yet have consciousness, but Hanson said he expected that fully sentient machines could emerge within a few years.

“What happens when [Sophia fully] wakes up or some other machine, servers running missile defense or managing the stock market?” he asked.

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