Everything that can be automated will be automated. In this sense, if robotics makes people’s lives simpler, better and evolve, welcome. We are at a very early stage of the skills of robots, so we will have to wait a long time until we see very ubiquitous robots. I think it’s also worth clarifying the difference between machine and robot. Robots are machines, but machines are not robots. In simple terms, robots have the ability to move autonomously while machines do not. The amazing thing about this is that the term robot was coined almost 100 years ago and we are only now witnessing its impact on our society. Robot comes from Czech; robot meaning work. Ironies aside, if robots end up doing our work the fiction of Karel Capek (Czech language writer who coined the term robot in the play Universal Robots Rossum) will be very real.
“I don’t trust machines. Technology is not neutral,” said philosopher Slavoj Zizek in Madrid in the last week of June 2017. Surely he was referring to the fact that artificial intelligence is carried by a human, and every human being belongs to an organization or institution or company with a vision of the world. Even ideologies, religions, affect neutrality in some way or another. Can we ensure that artificial intelligence will provide the greatest possible benefit to all of humanity? Will humans be able to look at a general good over self-interest? It is not a question of creating an artificial intelligence with a sense of justice. Since, as the sophists said, justice is man, and every man is different. We are already beginning to spend time weighing up the ethical dilemmas of artificial intelligence. The point is to ensure that data-trained systems do not include human ideological biases that could discriminate against users in the future. This will require a new level of corporate, political and institutional responsibility. I hope there is an area where artificial intelligence can be developed that improves the human condition rather than just generating immediate financial benefits from a massive level of users. The greater benefit is massive progress of humanity at all levels and at all levels.
While in 1970, the father of artificial intelligence, mathematician Marvin Minsky said that “when computers take over, we may not get it back. We will survive at their whim. Hopefully, they will decide to keep us as pets.” He said this 46 years ago, but it seems that we can’t, don’t know or don’t want to pay enough attention to certain messages or signals.
Not everything is apocalyptic. There are two sides to everything and progress has a very positive side. The truth is that robots will do almost any task. They currently assist the elderly, mow the lawn, clean the floor, attend the reception of hotels, compose songs or play Go. To make household chores easier comes a new robot that will iron your clothes, fold them and even perfume them in a matter of seconds. Foldimate is so easy to use that even children could use it without any problem.
Not everything is negative. The president of Baidu, Ya-Qin Zhang assures that “artificial intelligence will be like electricity, it will generate new business in many sectors.
Robots are more present in our world than we know. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the US military has deployed thousands of robots equipped with machine guns, each capable of locating targets and aiming them without the need for human involvement (however, they are not allowed to pull the trigger without supervision) and, as you read this, there are robots in Japan, the US and Europe providing care for the elderly or those with disabilities. Self-driving cars continue to rack up millions of miles while making autonomous decisions that could affect the safety of other human users.
Minsky himself considered the brain as a machine whose functions could be studied and emulated by a computer. In fact, in 1956, during a lecture at Dartmouth University, he introduced the term artificial intelligence. That was just 61 years ago. Most readers of this post had not yet been born.
The leap in the capabilities of machines can be summarized in two words: Artificial Intelligence. The machines that are developing all these activities are doing so based on programming and information uploaded by man. It is true that some machines already have the ability to learn from their experience and it is also true that many predict that autonomous artificial intelligence will come sooner rather than later. In the meantime, many machines are already a brand, they have already been created on an identity. Whether you like the identity or not, today there is Watson, Pepper, Deep Blue, Da Vinci, Robocoach and others. Even Alexa, which is an “intelligent” personal assistant, was born with an identity. Her identity is an artificially created reality, but it is real.
Artificial intelligence is on the priority list of many of the most influential technology companies in the world, Baidu among them. To such an extent that today there are already virtual schools that educate artificial intelligences.
The main difference between “us” and “them”, at least for the moment, is the ability to feel. A robot cannot empathize, its emotional capacity is null, its creativity is very limited and it will depend on the type of operating system installed what can make it different or just another clone of many. It would be very fruitful to remind children and young people that robots are born as a result of human curiosity, imagination and creativity. It is man who creates the machine. Identities are based on many intangible aspects such as trust, honesty, authenticity, emotion, it is interesting that they are aware of the importance of the construction of their identity, especially the importance it will have in the future they are heading towards.
Can we legislate at the speed of technological progress?
Legislation in general is almost a decade behind in relation to all the advances in these matters. But legislation is just one of many other dimensions that should be considered. The ethical, the philosophical, even the emotional. Until there are no “human-robots” (today there are geminoids that are quite close to being that) we will not be widely aware of the challenges that are posed. Today a robot is clearly seen and identified. Perhaps in the future when human-machine fusion is reflected in robots in human-like bodies, that need may or may not make more sense. Does someone looking to fall in love need to know whether they are falling in love with a person or an operating system, or do they simply want to fall in love?
I think there are many other more relevant questions to consider from the legislative point of view: What is the ethical framework of the machines? Should they pay social security and income tax? Should they have rights? What are their obligations? Will the marriage between man and machine be allowed? Will robots be allowed to teach in schools? And many more… Of course, in our context, these questions seem more typical of a science fiction movie, but believe me, we will get to these questions sooner rather than later.
One of the characteristic traits of our children is their boundless capacity for curiosity. Children are serial questioners. This is why it is essential to reemphasize the importance of asking and being asked questions. This opens the door to re-educate the mind, the system. In this digital era, where the artificial reigns, to revalue the innate ability of children to create, to imagine, to reconnect with their curiosity, their authenticity, their real freshness. Curiosity is precisely the human capacity that is revolutionizing artificial intelligence. This gift allows machines to explore reality (what is real and what is not, I wonder?) without a specific goal in mind. This helps them to learn more things and faster.
Around the corner with education.
In many schools they think that by teaching computer science, coding and tablets children are already in the digital age. They are not. Children must learn that technology is a means, not an end. They must be prepared for a world they are heading towards that does not exist. Technology in this future will not be the differential factor, but their social skills, their creativity, their empathy and above all the use of the most powerful machine we know today: the human brain. That is why simplifying the transformation to the use of technology, without further ado, is not encouraging. Imagination is much more powerful than what we come to understand. Albert Einstein said that “imagination is more important than knowledge”. And he was right, but only partly right.
Albert Einstein himself lamented when he saw the use that was being made of his discoveries. If instead of the atomic bomb they had created the bomb of love, he thought, the world would not be in a state of permanent war but building a peaceful, harmonious, collaborative planet and valuing diversity. Teaching from an early age to differentiate between good and evil, what is responsible and what is not, is almost more important than education in technology. Encourage imagination, but also to doubt, to understand knowledge as a process and not a destination. Before our children understand technology, they have to understand people. Aspects such as philosophy, psychology, sociology and anthropology should be part of the combo of immersion into the exciting world of technological progress. Let’s not forget that children learn faster than machines.
Watch a teenager with a smartphone in their hand. They control it perfectly. Now look at the same teenager facing a situation of heartbreak, or conflict, or pain. They are faced with an abyss of desolation. Technology is very useful but there are aspects that it cannot replace, much less solve. At least for now. One of the most vocal voices in the technological community, Tim Cook, states “that he wants technology to be at the service of humanity and not the other way around”. In order to form a critical and participative citizenry we are going to need many things to change, not only in technology, but in educational plans, teachers, parents and in the culture and mentality of our society in general.
Let the real be less virtual than the artificial.
Is knowledge of technology more important than knowledge of history, literature, mathematics, biology, ecology or engineering? Our society leapt into technology without going through the necessary steps to be better prepared for this era. One in three children under the age of five born in developing countries does not officially exist because their birth was not registered. Even if they have been registered, many do not have proof of it in the form of a birth certificate. Their identity is essential for them to function in this world. Technology can help change this.
In short: we are what we feel. The emotional is and will be defining in the history of our future. Emotional intelligence is not only not taught by machines, but it is difficult to ensure that someday they will be able to have it. Precisely in order to develop emotional intelligence, it is necessary to recover a space to promote social skills in the youngest. Bearing in mind that the robots we know still have no conscience, nor can they think independently, nor feel.
It is always wise to remember that the treasure of a country is its children and that the wealth of a country is in the talent of its people. If we review the list of the 10 most innovative countries in the world (Cornell University, INSEAD business school and the World Intellectual Property Organization publish their Global Innovation Index) are Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, United States, United Kingdom, Denmark, Singapore, Finland, Germany and Ireland.
The new human being observes how his cultural, social, political, religious and economic environment is shaking because a new era, the digital era, has begun. And every new era sees the birth of a new human being. This new man is “HumanOffOn”. A Man who is learning to live between two worlds (online and offline) that are already one.
Until now, we defined ourselves as humans in relation to the differences we had with the rest of the species that inhabit the Earth. From now on, what defines us as humans we begin to establish based on the differences we have with machines.
We are assuming that technological change has already happened. Now it is time to assume human change. These are deep and interesting paradigm shifts that appeal more to anthropological than technological understanding of the phenomenon.
In this new era it is essential to put the human back at the centre. What is real and what is not? What kind of artificial reality do we want to live in? What level of reality are we capable of enduring?
This post has not been written by a bot, nor by an artificial intelligence. But let’s not rule out that in the future it will.