Before he takes our jobs and then eliminates us

Before he takes our jobs and then eliminates us

Before it can take away our jobs and then eliminate us all, we need to answer a few questions. Are humans ready for robots? What about robots, humans?

“Are robots better than humans?” Asks Will Jackson, chief executive officer (CEO) of the British company Engineered Arts. “I don’t think robots are better than humans. I think people are the best kind of being “, Ameca answers. “Are you stronger than me?” Jackson continued his interrogation. “I’m not sure. Let’s find out. Let’s fight, find out who is stronger “, provokes his interlocutor. However, the confrontation between Jackson and the most famous humanoid robot of his company did not take place, but it was reduced to what was from the beginning only a friendly exchange of remarks.

Primordial space

Several videos with Ameca went viral in December last year, revealing a robot with human features, gray skin and an exposed metal torso, capable of changing his facial features in a disturbingly realistic way during his interactions with company researchers. In one of the videos in question, Ameca frowns when one of the engineers’ fingers tries to touch her nose, pulling her back a little and then gently pulling her hand away against the background of a hum of electric motors.

It is at least a strange moment, which can trigger an alarm among viewers: a robot reacts to the invasion of his personal space, physically manifesting his desire to establish a border between him and us – a desire that is, ironically, very human .

“I was a little scared when he raised his arm. I thought he was going to break his hand, “said a video on YouTube. “I know it’s scary, but I like it and I want more,” wrote another. “It scared us too, and we’re used to it,” said Ameca’s creative team. And such emotions – curiosity, fear, enthusiasm – are even the commercial arsenal of Engineered Arts, the company earning money from the sale of robots for entertainment and education. Academics use them for research; marketing teams, for advertising stunts; museums, airports and malls to receive visitors. “Basically, wherever you have a lot of people to interact with,” says Jackson.

Its cars can run on autopilot, reacting to passersby with predetermined jokes. Or they can be controlled remotely, with unseen manipulators answering crowd questions. In the near future, however, Engineered Arts wants to equip its robots with an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm that will allow them to answer questions fluently, without any human guidance.

Schedule to believe

Mankind’s interest in androids may seem like a modern obsession, but nothing is further from the truth. We have been dreaming of artificial people for thousands of years – from the Greek mythological Keledonians, the singing machines with female bodies forged from the purest gold by the god Hephaestus, to the Golem modeled from clay and animated by sacred words from Jewish folklore.

The term “robot” was first used by the Czech writer Karel Capek in 1920 in his drama “RUR (Universal Robots of Rossum)”, and derives from the Czech word “robot” – “forced labor” -, describing a new species of mechanical beings that look like humans, created for the sole purpose of working. (Inevitably, they rebel at some point, take control of the Earth and destroy the human species.)

From human hammer-struck bells in the great medieval astronomical clocks to the flute-playing mechanical shepherd of Jacques de Vaucanson, the French engineer whom Voltaire said was a modern rival of Prometheus, automatic mechanical devices have been seen in their time as a proof of the technological achievements of humanity. However, many also attributed spiritual properties to them, claiming that they blurred the boundaries between artificial and biological life. “There is a feeling that everything around us could be a different kind of intelligence, and different cultures react to it in different ways,” says Beth Singler, a digital anthropologist at Cambridge University.

In the traditional religion of Japan – Shinto – for example, any object or being has a soul or consciousness. “Consciousness, which the Japanese are inclined to believe, arises as a result of physical processes, such as information processing. Therefore, a robot is not so different from a human being, as long as they are both considered physical objects that process information, “writes Karl MacDorman, a robotics specialist at Indiana University, in his essay” Does Japan Really Have Robot Mania? ” Industry reference name Rodney Allen Brooks, former director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and founder of iRobot, says we must accept the idea that we are machines ourselves. , only that we are made of organic matter, not inorganic.

“We Westerners like to believe that we are immune to the idea that a man-made machine could have its own mind or soul,” said Beth Singler, a digital anthropologist at Cambridge University. “But when I look at people’s interactions with animated technology entities – and it can be anything from a humanoid robot to a Roomba vacuum cleaner – I see the same animistic trend. In other words, we still want to believe, “she added.

The game of imitation (and illusion)

Engineered Arts know how to play with such instincts. “It’s amazing how simple things are that you can do to give the impression that a car is sensitive,” Jackson said. In the early days of the company, for example, instead of scheduling a chatbot to analyze what people were saying, its engineers created an algorithm that would repeat the last thing the robot heard, but change the first to second person in any sentence. . So you say to the robot “I love you!”, And he answers “You love me!”. And you think, “Oh, my God, he understands me!” But it’s not like that. All I did was exchange a few words. ”

When talking to their creators or interviewing the world’s major publications, robots like Ameca, Sophia, or Ai-Da actually juggle pre-existing answers and scenarios, like an exasperating customer service chatbot. At the elementary level, a chatbot is a computer program that simulates and processes human conversation (written or spoken), allowing people to interact with digital devices through a conversation similar to that of a real person.

The first chat bots – like Smarterchild or ELIZA – worked by scanning phrases for keywords that then triggered a pre-programmed set of answers. The bots of the moment, on the other hand, can mimic a genuine conversation, evolving to provide higher levels of personalization as they gather and process information from (the same) interlocutor.

Created by Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong, Sophia is a socially intelligent humanoid robot equipped with artificial intelligence, capable of learning and processing language, emotions and visual information to interact with humans. It was activated in April 2015, has evolved steadily and has quickly become a superstar with the cover of magazines such as Elle or Cosmopolitan. He even arrived in Romania, and gave an interview for Andreea Esca. Modeled on Audrey Hepburn’s features, Sophia was built to mimic social behaviors and arouse feelings of love and compassion in people.

At first glance, it might remind us of self-conscious robots from productions such as “Ex Machina” or “Westworld”. He talks about different topics, answers freely and coherently, even makes jokes. Although Hanson Robotics likes to suggest otherwise, Sophia is not able to understand language in a real sense, and any appearance of human intelligence is an illusion based on mathematical probabilities. In fact, so far no robot has reached General Artificial Intelligence (AGI), which means that it does not have the ability to understand or learn an intellectual task that a human can perform.

17 shades of gray

Jackson & Co., on the other hand, never claimed that their cars were conscious, always emphasizing that they were advanced animatronics – something they wanted to highlight by their appearance – not emissaries of the Robot Apocalypse. Ameca’s body is made of metal and plastic, with a non-human gray face and deliberately neutral features. It has 17 individual motors inside its head, which control its movements and expressions. And the features on his face are surprisingly vivid and emotional. A combination of artificiality and realism that Jackson says responds to our collective vision of what humanoid robots will look like in the future. “We’ve all seen them in movies like ‘Me, the Robot’ or ‘Artificial Intelligence.’ And all of a sudden, they’re real. ”

For now, Ameca does not run and does not jump over obstacles as does Atlas, one of the star robots of the Internet created by the American company Boston Dynamics. It has no public outlets and cannot be pre-ordered as a future companion or household help. It will take at least another ten years for an android like Ameca to walk among us as a service robot, according to EA.

At the moment, they explain, there are too many engineering challenges in replicating the efficiency and dexterity of the human body. Electric motors are much larger than organic muscles, while digital control systems are not yet able to restore mobility, dexterity and human perception. This is what in robotics is known as the Moravec paradox: it is much easier to build an artificial intelligence that can defeat a great chess master than a robot with the physical abilities of a small child.

Asked what he thinks of Elon Musk’s plan to create an android worker for his factories – the already announced Tesla Bot – to take on all the dangerous, repetitive and tedious tasks, Jackson is distrustful. “When we saw his presentation, we couldn’t help but laugh,” he said, suggesting that the Tesla CEO would definitely come up with something, but not a car that could replace people. But what Musk can do – he has already done – is to unleash people’s imagination. This seems to be one of the reasons why, although at the official presentation he staged a dancer in a spandex suit instead of Tesla Bot, so many fans were willing to offer him the benefit of the doubt. People want to believe in robots.

This article appeared in issue 140 of . magazine.

PHOTO: Getty