While machines have simplified our lives and relieved us of certain redundant activities, there is cause to worry if we have created a monster out of the machines.
Technology has advanced so much that what was before only seen in sci-fi movies are now all around us. Take, for example, the 100,000 individual IoT sensors that stud the 1400-kilometre waterway that connects the Danjiangkou Reservoir to Beijing and Tianjin, to monitor structural damage, tracking water quality and flow rates, and watching for intruders, whether humans or animals. Or, KIT's ARMAR-6 Humanoid, which helps humans fix other robots, or even a no steering wheel GM car. Media coverage, today, is liberally sprinkled with the following terms - 5G, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence/machine learning, robots, and driverless cars, and for good reasons. The time is now.
When we look at the recently concluded CES 2018, the world's gathering place for all those who thrive on the business of consumer technologies, we see a common theme – pushing boundaries of technology. Some interesting products were:
This got me curious to find out what are recognised as innovations of 2018 so far. Here are the top 10 products under the innovation award category:
All these products highlight that we are closely integrating robotics, AI and automation into our everyday life. While all these products look interesting, there are always the same questions:
Do we need it?
Does it add value to our life?
Will it make us live in a fantasy world?
Will it affect my emotional and social skills?
Is it value for money?
Will it take away all the jobs?
While there are positive answers for all these questions, I hope the three laws of robotics or the Asimov's Laws are never compromised:
When I start interacting with a new gadget; to give you an example, I recently bought Amazon Echo, I started realising the way I pronounced words, and thereafter the way I talk to the machine changed. While we think we are programming and customising the machine, the machine is programming and customising all of us to speak the way it wants.
So, the pertinent question that needs to be asked here is, ‘are humans becoming more robotic?’, instead of asking, ‘are robots becoming more human?’
Have you noticed the emails you get when you buy one of these products?
"Alexa, when's the next blue moon?"
"Alexa, give me a foreign language quiz."
"Alexa, when is the Super Bowl?"
“Alexa, play 100 greatest Bollywood love songs.”
“Alexa, open a 7-minute workout.”
“Alexa, tell me a children’s joke.”
“Alexa, tell me a palindrome."
"Alexa, when was Generation X born?"
"Alexa, who's your favorite skateboarder?"
"Alexa, what's the word of the day?"
"Alexa, tell me a dinosaur joke."
"Alexa, what's the fifth largest city in the United States?"
"Alexa, enable Today in Music."
We are not teaching Alexa; instead Alexa is eliminating ambiguity, and is making us learn how to interact with it instead. Should I say ‘reverse learning’? What this is doing is it is making all of us generalists and predictable.
Haven’t you noticed, we all talk to Siri or Google Assistant the same way? Though Natural Language Processing (NLP) has come a long way, the machines have successfully transformed all of us to speak at a particular pace, pitch and volume. Every day, you and I and everybody else routinely respond to a stimulus without understanding what we’re getting ourselves into. In other words, we are behaving like machines. We’re being, in a sense, conditioned or programmed to behave that way.
It’s not just products; technology, too, is enabling a smooth transition of these products’ integration in our lives. With these new products on the shelf, we are seeing a big shift in communication technologies too. The fifth generation of connectivity, called 5G, will be ready for prime time later this year. The software is being tested, the hardware is in the works, and carriers are readying their plans to deploy 5G in select markets by the end of 2018.
The new networking standard is not just about faster smartphones. Instead, it is based on higher speeds and lower latency, which will make new experiences possible in the new norm. The new norm comprising augmented and virtual reality, connected cars and the smart home — any realm where machines need to talk to each other constantly and without lag.
While technologists are debating on the pros and cons of some of the newer technologies, I get worried when I read articles such as the one titled, ‘Stanford's AI predicts death for better end-of-life care’.
We are already in the verge of breaking the fine fabric of human emotions in our social lives. With these products aren’t we pushing the new technology too fast into a society, which still needs more human touch and emotional quotient?
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)