Professor Geoff Hinton, hired by Google, thinks that he’s on the brink of designing computer programs with the often overlooked “power of common sense.” For some people, having a robot partner with common sense might be a step up from their current “boo.”
Hinton is helping to develop new algorithms for computers that will be able to chat to us as though they were another human. Other than natural conversation, Hinton also thinks that they are on the verge of programs that can use logic, and maybe even flirt with us. (Is that an external hard drive in your pocket or… oh never mind).
This may seem ridiculous, but it might not be too long until you can go out and grab a cup of Java with a robot companion. “It’s not that far-fetched,” Hinton said. “I don’t see why it shouldn’t be like a friend. I don’t see why you shouldn’t grow quite attached to them.”
Hinton thinks that a flirtatious program would “probably be quite simple” to create, although “It probably wouldn’t be subtly flirtatious to begin with, but it would be capable of saying borderline politically incorrect phrases.” (Wait, that isn’t flirting?)
“You have to be master of the literal first,” Hinton said, “But then, Americans don’t get irony either. Computers are going to reach the level of Americans before Brits.”
Creating logic in the robots starts by devolving the skillful art of conversation (and romance) down to a sequence of numbers. Every thought can be given a “thought vector”. It sounds a bit too fantastical to be able to turn complex processes, like thoughts, into a couple of digits, “But there’s no reason why not. I think you can capture a thought by a vector,” Hinton muses.
Introducing your robot girlfriend or boyfriend to your parents might be a problem for the next generation. (Should we “crash” at your house or mine?) Nonetheless, it’s interesting to start thinking of the implications early on. How many jobs could “logic-bots” replace? Can a robot “love”? Would they need to buy a train ticket?
Hinton’s contribution to thinking about the future comes as a sobering warning and is not to be brushed off lightly. “I’m more scared about the things that have already happened,” said Hinton.
“The NSA is already bugging everything that everybody does. Each time there’s a new revelation from Snowden, you realize the extent of it.”
“I am scared that if you make the technology work better, you help the NSA misuse it more,” he added. “I’d be more worried about that than about autonomous killer robots.”
With every new technology that comes out, there’s always going to be the possibility that someone will abuse it in the name of wrong-doing. But are the risks of abusing robotic friends just too dangerous for humanity’s freedom?
Via IFL Science