Machines that can think – what does the future hold?

Robots with intelligence

We are building machines that can think, learn and make decisions. They may not even require any supervision or human intervention. Is this the beginning of the war of the machines, and are we moving into a more machine-driven world? Well, it was British computer scientist Alan Turing who helped crack the Nazi Enigma code and who came up with a machine which showed signs of intelligence. Since then, we have built computers that have become intelligent and have quietly and unobtrusively invaded our lives. From playing chess to driving cars – humanized robots are doing all this and much more.

Traditionally, computers have always been very good at collating information and making decisions based on analysis of that information. With the advancement of machine learning techniques, knowledge acquisition has become more refined, with semi-supervised and unsupervised techniques taking the control out of human hands. Humans have the capacity to learn and make decisions based on those learnings and observations, whereas computers need to be programmed. We are born with some pre-programming, and we don’t need to be taught how to see, make sounds, hear, feel, taste or even touch. But we do need to start thinking about associating them with some meaning and putting them into context; association of sounds to language and meaning, symbols and gestures to meaning, all go towards making communication between humans easier and more meaningful.

While we are taught through our social channels including schools as well as at home and trained to understand, respond, observe, communicate, there is a point at which a human becomes self-aware. When it comes to machines, they are programmed to become self-aware, however limited. Google’s latest deep-dreaming research, points out that machines too are creating abstract art; original pieces that no human has ever imagined. Some people might argue these images are more artistic than humans, but they are simply the result of a finite number of decisions.

We equate intelligence with thinking and our computers and robots are becoming increasingly better at acquiring information and making decisions based on it. Artificial Intelligence is something we humans have developed so that it can benefit us in some way. Jobs of the future are going to be more machine-driven, automated and decisions are going to be AI-motivated. Machines can multi-task, are already flipping hamburgers in 10 seconds or less, answering customer queries from ‘how to use’in helping insurance claims, or even solder, screw or build machine parts. According to Martin Ford, author and entrepreneur, “robotics and AI will soon overhaul the entire economy.” Oxford University researchers have estimated that 47 percent of U.S. jobs could be automated within the next two decades, for instance. Take the area of technology for instance. Even developers of software solutions use DevOps, for instance, to automate several, hitherto, manual processes, from Testing to Provisioning and so on.

So while the development of the ‘thinking machine’ evokes excitement, it also evokes some fear. Will this era of the ‘thinking machine’ also prove as disruptive as the invention of the wheel, discovery of fire or even language? Tech entrepreneur and author calls this the “Fourth Age” in his new book and believes that robots and automation will make our planet better, leading to healthier lives. What remains to be seen though, is how are we, as humans going to cope with something that we ourselves developed – will machines rule, will it lead to fear and a dystopian future, will our lives as we know it, be irrevocably changed? We don’t have easy answers, just guesstimates, but, we just have to wait and watch and live through this age.  Only time will tell.

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