Artificial Intelligence - welcome, robot overlords.

First coined by American Computer Scientist John McCarthy in 1955, ‘Artificial Intelligence’ is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines and it’s also the topic of this week's Update episode.


AI has populated our novels, movie screens and imaginations for decades. Mention AI to someone born in the 80’s and it’ll more than likely conjure images of Arnold Schwarzenegger demanding ‘your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle’. Mention it to my Dad and he’ll start doing rubbish impressions of HAL9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey and start calling everyone ‘Dave’. As a result, it’s left a lasting effect on our cultural psyche. But in what state is AI actually in? Are we only moments away from greeting our robot overlords? Or are we safe from Skynet for a while yet?

A round up of the usual suspects...

A round up of the usual suspects...

Curiosity V Caution

Technology and curiosity is a natural combination. Throw AI into the mix and we’re starting to see some amazing things. Kevin Warwick and his team at the University of Reading has taken cultivated rat brain cells and using them to power simple robots - each displaying different ways of manoeuvring around, arguably displaying characteristics. Across the pond in America, Boston Dynamics have been creating robots and wowing millions of viewers with videos of their various creations.

As with any form of science or technology, the fact that we can do something usually overshadows the more important question of whether we should. Yes - I did learn that from this. It’s an important question and something that was most succinctly and powerfully spoken of in Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. (Not read it? Treat yourself to this  fancy copy and remedy immediately) To this end, esteemed minds such as Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak issued a letter calling for a ban on the use of automated weaponry. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, whose name was also attached to the aforementioned letter, co-founded Open AI. A non-profit organisation, OpenAI aims to tackle this issue head-on by encouraging considered and responsible development of AI by offering it’s research and patents open to the public. The idea being that not just one company is determining the future of AI, we all have the ability to police and guide it’s future.

But not everyone is convinced this fear is truly justified. Adam Thierer has coined a phrase called ‘technopanic’ - a moral panic over a vague, looming technological threat driven by crowd irrationality and threat inflation rather than sensible threat assessment. So instead of sensible discussion about AI, policymakers and the media inflate and fuel that panic and fear. Yann LeCunn of Facebook’s AI lab agrees, stating “Hype is dangerous to AI. Hype has killed AI four times in the last five decades. We have to measured in how we talk about AI. The fact is, our ‘smartest’ AI is as intelligent as a toddler.” 

Same as a four year-old

In October this year, an AI system called ConceptNet4 (catchy) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) took an IQ test. The test aims to measure intelligence in five fields: Information, Vocabulary, Word Reasoning, Similarities and Comprehension. 
ConceptNet4 performed well on the Vocabulary and Similarities sections but poorly on the Comprehension and Reasoning resulting in an IQ score equivalent to that of a four year-old child. 
It found that AI couldn't comprehend questions such as “Why do we shake hands?”, interpreting it as ‘What is making my hands shake?” and giving the answer “Epileptic fit”.
So from this test, we can see that AI is still in it’s infancy. But as a result of this test, steps are now being taken to improve upon ConceptNet4’s initial IQ results with one of the recommendations being the implementation of a virtual assistant such as Siri or Cortana.

Replaced by AI?

Another fear and possible nominee for Thierer’s ‘technopanic’, is whether an AI robot will steal your job and kickstart a revival of the Luddites. No - they’re not a dad-rock band making a comeback, but still, not a bad band name...

As with the Luddites, AI is more than likely going to be seen populating the factory floors. In China, Sehnzhen Evenwin Precision Technology (SEWP), is building the first robot-only factory with the aim of reducing it’s workforce of 1,800 by 90%.  And it’s not only SEWP getting robots on the production lines, another 500+ factories in Dongguan are investing a near £430 million in robots, replacing close to 30,000 people.

So, factory work is on the way out. How about a career as driver of some sort? Think again.With the continued development of driverless cars via the continued research of Google, Tesla Motors and the majority of the car companies the world over, AI will soon have those jobs all sewn up, with CEO of Ford predicting driverless cars widely available by 2030. This will no doubt affect an array of sectors including farming, taxi and limousine services, public transport, truck haulage and postal delivery services. Add the possible implementation of drones, such as those that Amazon are currently trialling, into the mix and the future of the delivery service is going to look quite different indeed.

A typical taxi-ride in 2030

A typical taxi-ride in 2030

How about swapping your blue collar for white and get yourself an office job! Maybe not. AI as basic personal assistant’s are already currently available via services such as x.ai and Microsoft’s R&D teams have been helping out by implementing an AI receptionist/organisers. Although relatively crude, you can see the AI successfully meeting and interacting with a person to organise a meeting and offer alternatives if something wasn’t possible.

Oh, and if your job isn’t mentioned above, don’t think your off the AI/automated hook just yet! The good ol’ BBC have provided this little tool to gauge with you should start looking for something new or not! Thanks Auntie Beeb! 

So, yeah...

Like any technology, AI has huge potential and whether for good or ill, as always it comes down to the individual’s application of it. But for now, we seem to have the right balance of caution and curiosity, and I’m looking forward to seeing what AI applications are around the corner. Which, thanks to companies like OpenAI, actively sharing it’s discoveries with the public, may come sooner than you think… Dave.

Written by Shaun Russell.

It can only be attributable to human error, Dave.

It can only be attributable to human error, Dave.