Roboticist: We’re Eight Years From a Human-Like Machine
Ben Davis predicts our robotic future
Dr. Ben Davis is a nuclear physicist and robot-designer. He said humanity is on the cusp of creating artificial intelligence rivaling the powers of the human brain. “Expect major advances in the next five years, paving the way for sophisticated autonomous robots by 2023.”
Davis spoke at the Dragon Con comics convention in Atlanta on Sept. 4. While bullish on human-like robots, he also warned against fearing those autonomous machines. After all, Davis argued, people will still build and program the ‘bots … for the foreseeable future.
“Will robots ever turn on us? Because that’s what we’re afraid of. I think not. We’ve been breeding dogs for the qualities we desire for 30,000 years. So far, so good.”
Davis, who builds custom industrial robots for private companies, explained that Moore’s law — the exponential improvement in computing power — is the key to our robotic future. That’s the how. As to why, Davis added that six impulses drive the fast advancement of computing, A.I. and robotics technology.
- Assisted living — the medical needs of a rapidly-aging population, particularly in countries such as Japan with very low birth rates.
- Companionship, as in people’s need for sex and friendship even when human partners aren’t available. Davis pointed to China, with its 20-percent surplus of young men relative to young women, as a huge future market for human-like sex-‘bots.
- Exploration — especially in space and the deep sea.
- Safety. Autonomous cars are better drivers than most people are and will save lives on the road.
- Dangerous, dirty and dull work. In other words, jobs human beings usually don’t want to do, particularly in agriculture and industry.
There are huge ethical considerations, of course. For instance, as robots displace people in many menial jobs, the newly-jobless will need to retrain for other work.
And in war, military leaders will need to decide when it’s appropriate for a machine to make a life-or-death decision, such as when to fire a missile. “At some point they’re going to decide that A.I. can make better decisions than a person can,” Davis predicted.