• By Sin Mei C
  • May 16, 2014

Redefining Limits: Robots and Artificial Intelligence

For ‘Redefining Limits’, the organizers of Singularity University Netherland‘s latest event invited two world class speakers to Rotterdam. Singularity’s Neil Jacobstein gave an insightful talk about artificial intelligence, deep learning and algorithms. Three-times astronaut Daniel Barry introduced us to the robot-tsunami. Both speakers supplied plenty of food for thought on the ethics of robotery.

Invent the Future Boldly and Responsibly

Neil Jacobstein gave an extensive introduction to the different components of artificial intelligence. He touched on statistical and deep machine learning, AI’s many applications, and the value thinking computer systems add. Amongst others, AI helps to solve complex problems, increases productivity as well as our prediction accuracy, and augments our human skills. Yet, the biggest added value for Jacobstein is that artificial intelligence expands the range of the possible.

“Eventually,” Jacobstein said, “we will manage to reverse engineer the human neocortex.” The neocortex, that’s the part of our brain responsible for languages, creativity and conscious thought.

Jacobstein shared these operational recommendations for those interested in AI:

  • crowd source creatives and data scientists
  • utilise power of machine & deep learning
  • learn to use R, R Studio and Python tools
  • leverage IBM Watson’s APIs
  • assemble truly interdisciplinary teams
  • use fast product iterations with feedback loops
  • radical process re-engineering

When it came to ethics and the possibility of AI’s going rogue, Jacobstein likened building a well behaved AI to raising a good kid. Any thinking system should also be thought about ethics and about taking consequences into account. “Invent the future boldly and responsibly,” Jacobstein urged the audience.

Are machines capable of true empathy?

One idea that resonated is that, whilst we are making machines that are capable of interpreting how we feel and responding appropriately, understanding emotions is not the same as feeling them. It’s recognition and programmed compassion, but not true empathy. Or as Jacobstein put it, “the kind of emotional intelligence we admire in our fellow humans, is almost impossible to replicate.”

Singularity University 'Redefining Limits' - Daniel T Barry (not

Notes on Neil Jacobstein’s talk

Daniel Barry’s Robot Tsunami

The last decade we saw a significant decrease in costs and an increase in capabilities for electronics such as sensors and memory, which caused a ‘robotics tsunami’. Nowadays, for the price of a high-end smartphone, you can buy a consumer level drone or a robot to vacuum your floors.

Meanwhile, Daniel Barry is working on a robot able to pick up stuff from the floor and put it away in a semi orderly fashion. That way, the vacuuming-robot has room to manoeuvre and do its job. When it is out of work? As soon as it gets bored, it just rolls off and starts to sort all the books alphabetically on the shelves. I need one of these. I hate the job of picking up and sorting socks, and my book collection could definitely do with some more indexing and order.

Thinking of robotics in terms of jobs

Jobs, according to Barry, is the right way to approach the topic of robotics. Think about which jobs are going to go away. These employments that are disappearing are not just assembly jobs. For example, the last few decades, plenty of mission control staff have been replaced by ‘robots’ (or at least software) too. We should also think about the new jobs that are being created and the jobs robots are doing as we speak.

A few decades from now, we won’t be able to imagine a doctor putting a knife to and his hands in our bodies. To our future selves, such notions will sound like quackery, extremely unhygienic and far from precise. The surgeons of the future? They’ll build, program, maintain and invent our medical robots.

A forty minute Q&A with Barry resulted in some splendid questions and even better answers on our future dependence on technology. How will we maximize the good and minimize the bad? And, most importantly, are we going to have great data-driven decisions, or just going to give up on making decisions ourselves altogether?

Notes on Dan Barry’s talk. 

The next Singularity University NL event is “NeuroTech: Read and Hack Your Brain“, September 22nd in Amsterdam. See you there?

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