Explore the possibility of artificial intelligence as the next digital revolution
By Jahan Hadidimoud
The movie 'Her' stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly; a man living in the near future, who purchases an advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) as easily as purchasing any other electrical item. The AI system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) names herself Samantha, and quickly learns how to communicate with Theodore. As the film progresses, Theodore finds himself falling in love with Samantha, as she provides a nurturing presence that his life has recently lacked. The film questions the possibility of AI that is so human-like that the line between real and virtual becomes blurred.
AI has recently grown huge in interest due to speech assistants such as Apple's Siri, Google’s Assistant and Amazon's Alexa, which help to provide information in a much more casual way than conventional web searches. Progress was made in early stages when assistants could reply to questions based on information previously given, creating a sort of short-term memory which improved customer satisfaction. These systems, however, are purely built for consumer use. Much more advanced AI systems have been developed that have beaten many world champions at their own games, for instance, Google's 'AlphaGo' defeated Ke Jie at the ancient Chinese board game, Go.
As with many things, there are people for and against AI. Arguments in support range from economic reasons, to pure scientific curiosity. The reasons against are just as obvious; AI could take over entire sectors and leave millions jobless, or perhaps we, as mere mortals, shouldn't be playing god. Will AI take over the world? Will it ever pull the plug on mankind in the same way some of mankind hopes it can pull the plug on it? Maybe it's the branding of AI as an "artificial brain" that scares people when they hear of super-advanced systems that can make decisions. Will these potentially evil, soulless entities travel down through their power cables, into the national grid, and onto our computers where they'll hack the mainframe (whatever that means) and destroy the planet? No. I don't think so.
The future possibilities of AI's use are endless, but one particularly hyped venture is producing intelligent driverless cars. Although driverless cars are already in production, with a current system from market leader Tesla being very successful, there are still improvements to be made. Advanced AI car systems will go further than simply determining when to turn, or apply the brakes, they will also have the ability to make crucial decisions for the driver—a well-debated topic that raises philosophical questions about how we programme AI to think. For example, if some pedestrian jumps onto the road, who should the car prioritise? You or the pedestrian? These questions have no objective right or wrong answer, but seeing how companies face these problems will be interesting.
Possibly the scariest form of AI we're familiar with are those like Hanson Robotics’ Sophia—the human mask covering a metal skeleton, with the brain area left exposed, can leave us confused on how to feel. Sophia has appeared on TV shows and conducted interviews where she's asked questions you would only ask a non-human. Maybe it's her 8-bit facial expressions, or her awkwardly long pauses before the punchlines to her “dad jokes”, but Sophia certainly doesn’t feel like the finished article to AI droids, particularly after hearing Scarlett Johansson’s AI character speak so fluently.
It looks like AI's going to be very popular in the near future; the more it learns, the better it'll get and the more popular it will become. Even if AI isn't the 'Ex-Machina'-looking droids we see in movies, it will certainly have uses in our everyday lives more practical than stabbing us, or making us fall in love with its voice.
From Issue 15