Fear not rise of the machines

Despite concerns in some quarters, artificial intelligence and advanced robotics will serve human beings, not usurp them

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2016, 12:58am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2016, 12:58am

The defeat of Go world champion Lee Se-dol by a supercomputer in a best-of-five series has inevitably rekindled questions about the place of artificial intelligence in our future. The battle between a machine and the ancient Chinese game’s modern-day master was a major test of what engineers and scientists have achieved over the past decade. No game is considered as difficult to master and the achievement, while not a whitewash, is being portrayed by some as another inevitable milestone towards a world where the skills of computers and people are equally matched. Technology should not be about replacing or displacing, though; we should make use of it to improve and enhance our lives.

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The previous most famous test of the growing strength of AI was in 1997, when former world chess champion Garry Kasparov lost to the IBM computer Deep Blue. But Go has countless more strategic possibilities and the victory of Google’s AlphaGo is seen as having taken the development of AI to another level. The software was modelled on the human mind, with learning from mistakes at its core, pointing to a new developmental direction.

Science fiction has long dwelled on the possibility of machines being as intelligent as people. Hollywood movies like The Matrix, Terminator and last year’s Ex Machina, in which machines take over the world, offer frightening scenarios. New technologies through the years have similarly sparked fears about jobs and livelihoods; the industrial revolution and the inventions that followed changed the way we work and live. This has created a degree of negativity about AI and robotics.

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But technology is not something to be worried about or shunned. Robots can do heavy and dangerous tasks and repetitive and mundane jobs. They are being developed to keep the elderly company and a watchful eye on our surroundings. There are justified concerns about jobs being put at risk, algorithmic traders crashing the economy and hackers hitting power grids. For those reasons, AI has to be made beneficial and robust and robots designed to make our lives better.