Magazine article USA TODAY

Al Apparently Is for Real

Magazine article USA TODAY

Al Apparently Is for Real

Article excerpt

THERE IS AN OLD JOKE among scientists: When all of man's knowledge was poured into a computer, the computer was asked one question: "Is there a God?" Its response: "There is now." In popular media, this scenario was illustrated in the 'Terminator" movies, and even earlier in the prophetic classic, "The Forbin Project" (1970). Robotics then was a nascent science. Today, increasingly sophisticated robotic applications are becoming a part of everyday life.

Drones are robotic applications. There are a variety of robotic toys available for both children and adults. So, too, self-driving cars are arriving as a consumer product. Hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities use robots to help care for patients. Robotics today is one of the fastest growing scientific and industrial sectors. Large corporations, small businesses, and even garage-based enterprises are turning out ever more sophisticated robotic applications.

The systems deployed today have ultimate human control built into their programs. However, much research is being conducted in giving these robotic units the ability to think and react, and in ways more closely paralleling the outcomes of human thought. Called artificial intelligence (AI), the aim is to enable these machines to make choices and then perform tasks mimicking human thought processes. More importantly, these processes are programmed to learn as they operate. Some can grow in sophistication as they digest more and more data. This is the process by which humans increase their knowledge and ability to think. As robotic applications learn, they can, if scientists are to be believed, come closer to humans in terms of brain power.

Thoughtful individuals are worrying that humankind may, eventually, start losing control of the machines which have become so much a part of everyday existence. They fear computers may be edging closer to that point where we may see the beginnings of AI evolving into new forms programmed by computers for use in a next generation of computers. New forms that, ultimately, could become independent, sentient thinking entities. To a degree, this already is occurring. Computer scientists admit machines now are writing programs within their own systems they are not aware of or control. Put simply, computers already are, in some ways, replicating themselves.

This can lead to undesirable consequences. Robotics inadvertently can turn lethal as apparently benign applications go wrong. …

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