Robots could soon become advanced enough to make their own decisions

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​Robots, they’re here, they’re getting smart, and some, at least, are being outfitted to kill. Should we, meat bags be worried?

In Inhuman Kind, Motherboard gains exclusive access to a small fleet of US Army bomb disposal robots—the same platforms the military has weaponized—and to a pair of DARPA’s six-foot-tall bipedal humanoid robots. We also meet Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams, renowned physicist Max Tegmark, and others who grapple with the specter of artificial intelligence, killer robots, and a technological precedent forged in the atomic age. It’s a story about the evolving relationship between humans and robots, and what AI in machines bodes for the future of war and the human race.

There are basically two things which grow in parallel as society evolves right, there is the power of our technology and then there’s the wisdom of us humans for how to manage the technology.

If technology grows faster than the wisdom, it’s kind of like going into kindergarten and giving them a bunch of hand grenades to play with.

We’ve no clue what would happen if we were to ever succeed in making machines that are much smarter than us. It depends upon masters of Robots what kind of decisions they’ll let Robots to take on their own—like where to bring a load of car parts—whether they will result in benefits for workers will be up to the humans deciding how they’ll be used. Take, for example, what companies are teaching to robots today.

Google is using machine learning to teach robots how to grasp random objects

Using your hand to grasp a pen that’s lying on your desk doesn’t exactly feel like a chore, but for robots, that’s still a really hard thing to do. So to teach robots how to better grasp random objects, Google’s research team dedicated 14 robots to the task.

The standard way to solve this problem would be for the robot to survey the environment, create a plan for how to grasp the object, then execute on it. In the real world, though, lots of things can change between formulating that plan and executing on it.

Google is now using these robots to train a deep convolutional neural network to help its robots predict the outcome of their grasps based on the camera input and motor commands. It’s basically hand-eye coordination for robots.

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The team says that it took about 3,000 hours of practice (and 800,000 grasp attempts) before it saw “the beginnings of intelligent reactive behaviors.”

“The robot observes its own gripper and corrects its motions in real time. It also exhibits interesting pre-grasp behaviors, like isolating a single object from a group. All of these behaviors emerged naturally from learning, rather than being programmed into the system.”

Google’s researchers say the average failure rate without training was 34% on the first 30 picking attempts. After training, that number was down to 18%. Still not perfect, but the next time a robot comes running after you and tries to grab you, remember that it now has an 80% chance of succeeding.

Why is the media taking such an interest now? Because today, the robotics industry has a set of fresh economic and political messages:

  • Robots are becoming affordable.
  • Anyone can benefit from purchasing a robot.
  • Robots will increase our production efficiency.
  • Robots will allow us to “reshore” (run away from China).
  • We will be able to make things in our country again.
  • We will get rid of workers — they are just too expensive and too lazy and kids these days don’t want factory jobs anyway.

Although all of the above are true, the simplicity of media coverage distorts the real situation. After watching numerous videos showing cool automation in action, it would be easy to get the wrong idea about how much effort it takes to automate anything.

A lot of folks imagine the process of bringing a robot onto their production floor as, literally, bringing a robot in. You buy a robotic arm, you install that robotic arm, you’re done.

It’s hard to blame them. Robotic manipulators are what they see in videos. If you hear the words “industrial robot,” what pops up in your mind? The arm! Get a couple of these, and you are on the way to your company’s automated future. If only it was that simple!

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Quantum robots are being designed to become the worker of tomorrow

If robots are ever going to start learning, thinking, and creating on their own, they’re going to have to go quantum. Robots are still mostly designed to complete specific tasks and aren’t learning from their past mistakes. But the coming quantum computing revolution will change all of that, in a decade, and will lead to real artificial intelligence and smart, creative robots.

Quantum computers can be used to allow robots to remember situations they’ve encountered before in the real world, where things are constantly changing. The robots will then be able to react and learn at a quadratic rate (read: very fast in real time) and be able to recall memories at that same speed.

While automation and robotics certainly have the potential to save workers from lives of toil and misery—they also hold the possibility to deepen current inequalities, depending on whose hands they’re in.

In most cases, repositioning labor doesn’t mean that everyone gets to keep their jobs. Ultimately, when you redeploy people from one job to another, there’s a cascading effect that does eliminate jobs unless they’re bringing in more work.


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