My interest in Artificial Intelligence picked just after my tenth birthday, and I found it hard to stop talking about how I was going to be the youngest MI6’s AI expert. I described to anyone within earshot how a remotely controlled car would work and how people will be able to communicate with their minds come 2022. Yes, too much James Bond should be registered as a hard drug. However, my hyper-imaginative ideas were met with equally hyper myths by the ‘uncles and aunties’, who believed they knew how the world works. Going down the memory lane, here is, my favourite absurd disbelieves about AI.
To make sure we’re on the same page, imagine “uncle” as a very tall man, with scattered beards, and a friendly smile that convinces you he knows what he is talking about. Imagine “auntie’s” headgear is always funny looking.
MYTH ONE: AI will one day take over the world, and humans will be helpless.
I am certain the uncle that said this must have watched 2001: A Space Odyssey while growing up. A Space Odyssey was a 1968 AI movie about HAL 9000 and a bunch of astronauts sent to investigate a strange signal near Jupiter. HAL sensed his human crew members’ reluctance, spied on their conversations and assumed they will hinder the mission. Since he couldn’t let that happen, he decided that the lives of a few humans were small compared to the success of the mission. HAL ended up killing most of the crew members. The movie seems to show that conflict could occur to a robot’s programming and could cause a malfunction that might be harmful to humans. Today, we have accepted rising technology; however, from my interaction with people, it seems a lot of us still harbour this fear somewhere in the corner of our minds.
Truth: Robots cannot overthrow humans. There are three laws of robotics that serves as fundamentals to check the behaviour of robots designed to have a degree of autonomy. They are:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- It must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- It must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Over the years, these laws have revolved to give the robot the ability to read a situation and pick the best solution for any given scenario. This is why C-3PO let his memory gets wiped to translate the Sith Language. He sacrificed his memories to save The Resistance.
MYTH 2: Robots are/will be smarter than humans.
“There will come a time when we won’t differentiate humans from robots.” said another uncle confidently, while trying to flex his knowledge on the subject. His spiel was interrupted by an auntie’s fear, “But how can you trust machines? They’re way smarter than humans and will be stronger. Don’t tell me I’m paranoid, I read about it.”
Of course, there are humanoid robots, but no, Terminators are not a thing yet. And it will take a while before robots can morph into cars and back.
Truth: AI systems owe their existence to humans and can only be as smart as the programmer wants it to be. Although systems are designed to do things faster than a human brain will, computer programs do what you ask them to do; no more, no less. And keep in mind that AI is a long and slow process, it’s been years in development, and it will still take time to build ones that have the exact human level of intelligence.
MYTH 3: You need a PhD, or “be a really smart ass” to go into AI.
“But look at them,” a particular auntie said, pointing to the TV “they are all doctors and professors.”
Truth: Apart from that being a subtle ‘you might not be as smart’, it is somewhat wrong. True, you need to get a level of education to build AI systems but it doesn’t have to be totally formal. Kindly note that AI takes a lot of research and constant learning to keep up with changing technology. Most of what we call AI system today took a lot of years to develop. So, this auntie may be right, you need to be smart, but you do not need a PhD.
Myth 4: You’re creating life.
An over-religious uncle once said, “Why would you create life? Only God should do that?” I believed he was senile, but when a much younger auntie asked me if it wasn’t a sinful ambition, I discovered my favourite silly AI misconception.
Truth: A difference between living and non-living things is consciousness. The portrayal of robots in movies and books make us forget that they are not conscious and do not have emotions. It is another reason they are unable to get angry and take over the world.
Unfortunately, Star Wars lied to us all. Our beloved C3-PO and R2D2 shouldn’t be capable of human emotions. On the bright side, Star Wars occurred in a galaxy far far away with different intelligent species who use a lot of their brain powers. So, we can let that slide. But in real life, scientists have no idea how to instil consciousness in robots. Besides, this uncle uses an android phone now. Should I mention it to him that he’s holding a life?
- AI systems are incredible, and they seem to do mind-blowing things. Still, they are designed by the most intelligent machine ever, the human brain.
- Buiding AI is not a simple process, you can’t rush into it. There are things you need to learn first – a programming language and the basics of statistics inclusive.
- AI isn’t necessarily a physical, humanoid robot. It is Siri and Google Assistant. It is the ads on your browser. Netflix uses AI to suggest movies. Grammarly and Swiftkey are AI. And yes, your drones are artificially intelligent systems as well.
- The portrayal of AI in movies and books can easily mislead you, be sure to check facts with fiction.