“Robot awakening”: Do we need to be vigilant? by Qinqi Xu


Image credit : IIT


With the continuous evolution of technology, robots have been comprehensively developed and have increasingly entered our lives. A companion robot is one capable of providing useful assistance in a socially acceptable manner as “family member” or “work partner”. Fancy scenarios used to be described in science fictions now has become reality. For example Roomba, the robot that takes care of the household duties, the Google cars running without driver or the icub robot performing as a child. These rapid changes raise public concerns and call for a vigilant attitude. Particularly at the time when AlphaGo won the chess master, the question burst out: will these creatures of artificial intelligence go beyond human beings and dominate the world one day?


A general idea of robotic intelligence for the majority comes from the movies. In the “Westworld” TV series, thematic parks are hosted by intelligent robots. During the process of debugging , the androids gradually develop their own consciousness and are no longer under human control. “Matrix” presented an artificial and illusory world automatically run by program systems.


It is undeniable that our living environment is built on the services of smart machines. This reliance tightly connects people with various robots and it is difficult to image a wonderful life without such technologies. However, unlike the ‘enemy’ robotic intelligence introduced in the fiction movie, in reality robots are more likely smart types of tools. Human beings always spark with new tools invented for improving working efficiency. More than 400 years ago, the emergence of microscope allowed the biologists to observe microorganisms far beyond imagination, in a way human sight cannot be compared with. Just like microscope, the robotic intelligence is a tool that helps to optimize our work flow and way of living. Instead of appearing as a general apparatus, robotic intelligence could be seen as a machine running in a way of data fitting and regression. The methodology is inspired by brain science and based on evolutionary and synthetic programs. Finally machines are supposed to solve problems by learning and experience. They are built with metals, advanced materials, and “brain-like” algorithms, acting in a similar way that top-skilled humans are executing tasks. Nevertheless, thinking of the realization of mechanical automated production line, when it comes to the problem-solving on an integral task level, top finishing works nowadays still come from the human hands.


A universal phenomenon of increasing number of jobs occupied by robots also raises the social panic. Tracking back to the history of the 1st and 2nd industrial revolutions when man powers were replaced by machines, angry jobless textile workers and weavers were trying to destroy their iron competitors, but still could not pull back the history. However, as elucidated by the historian Robert Wearmouth, unlike the common misconception that the “Luddites” were afraid of technology and attempted to halt progress of technology out of fear, this violent action can be seen as the rise of British working-class discontent due to their replacement by less-skilled, low-wage laborers for the machine operation. The primary concern of people was to meet their own daily needs and the only willing was to gain a better bargaining position. Instead of the fiction idea that robots will one day dominate humans, this contradiction is much closer to reality and more likely to be one of the future challenges.


Despite the fact that robots are acting in a way more efficient and productive for specific tasks, their “endowments” may not be as good as ordinary people. Their intelligence is due to the predefined advanced algorithms, not to independent and creative thinking. We should not be worried about robotic intelligence, they are our ‘metal-appearance’ helpers.