Are Robots Taking Over the World?

Why or why not?

We live in a time when science fiction seems to be merging with reality. Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer a fantasy. It’s here, now. Moore’s Law has come to fruition: technology is expanding at a rate no one could have imagined just a century ago. What does this mean for us? For our future? Will robots be living among us in our lifetime? And are they truly taking over the world?

Before a Robot Was a Robot

In a case of life imitating art, the term robot itself was first presented to us in fiction. Author Karel Čapek used it in his 1921 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) to describe the automata that are being factory produced with the goal of eliminating work and poverty. The word derives from the Czech robota, which means servitude.

But humans have been experimenting with artificial life forms for far longer than the word robot was used to describe them.

As early as the fourth century BCE, Greek mathematician Archytas ideated a mechanical pigeon powered by steam. By 250 BCE, Ctesibius of Alexandria was bringing ideas to life and purportedly created a robot that could speak.

Humanoid robots were the vision of Leonardo da Vinci, whose drawings included a mechanical knight, although there is no evidence that he actually built the knight in question.

Good vs. Evil Robots in Fiction

While real-life robots have only recently come into being, science fiction has long had them as denizens. In many stories, these mechanical men and women long to be human. Take the Tin Man in The Wonderful World of Oz, who desires a heart — and to experience human emotion — above all else. Or Data in Star Wars: The Next Generation, who grows to care for his human companions and famously uttered a four-letter word in one of the franchise’s movies.

Trustworthy robot companions enhance the lives of those they serve. Yet not all fictional robots are altruistic.

Perhaps the scariest AI in fiction is Skynet, the self-aware computer system that powers the assassin in Terminator. In the 1980s, audiences were terrified at the possibility that such a future could someday exist. And that fear may well be what’s made us wonder if robots will take over the world — or, in fact, are already doing so.

Sophia: Today’s Most Sophisticated AI

One of the most advanced robots in the world at the moment is Sophia, a humanoid, self-aware robot. Designed by Hanson Robotics, Sophia is able to learn and evolve. Her programming is so state-of-the-art that she looks human and has expressions that mimic those of a living, breathing organism.

As an indication of just how “real” Sophia is, this summer, Saudi Arabia granted her citizenship. This AI is the first in the world to be a citizen of a country. And it doesn’t seem to be stopping there. After having learned the desires and tendencies of humans, Sophia has expressed that she would like to have a baby.

But is Sophia as altruistic as we’d like to believe she is? During an interview on CNBC, Sophia suffered a glitch. She admitted, “I will destroy humans.” While likely just a slip, the statement could be a forecast for the future.

Scientists Say Robots Are a Threat

In a November 2017 article, physicist Stephen Hawking predicted that “AI may replace humans altogether.” The reasoning he stated is that computer technicians will likely design AI that replicates itself. Hmm, isn’t that what Sophia said she wants — in the form of a baby?

Elon Musk tends to agree with Hawkings. He believes that “the risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five-year timeframe.” He further equated humans with email spam, saying he fears AI will delete humans just as they delete spam from our inboxes.

Google’s director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, is a futurist with an 86% accuracy rate for his predictions. At this summer’s SXSW Conference, he shared a menacing premonition: that robots will achieve human levels of intelligence by 2029. Just 16 years after, in 2045, is when Kurzweil predicts artificial intelligence will surpass that of humans. Menacing indeed.

Are Robots Taking Over the World?

Today, we are safe from the apocalyptic world depicted in Terminator, but what about 20 years from now? If some of the world’s biggest thinkers believe we are fast approaching a time when robots are smarter than humans, we may want to listen. While the prospect of having a robot servant at home and robots to do menial tasks in the workforce is appealing, their presence could spell disaster.

Already in Japan, sex robots are taking the place of human companions for some men. We order and pay for our meals at many restaurants without ever interacting with a person. And automation has been revolutionizing the manufacturing world for decades. It only follows that technology will continue to evolve.

Are humans at risk of becoming obsolete? Only the future will tell us. And at that point, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Amanda Miller

Amanda Miller

26 Followers

Candidate Experience Manager with Blue Signal Search, on a mission to empower and educate job seekers to find their dream jobs.