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Robots, Automation, and Artificial Intelligence – Why should we learn about them?

Let me start with a caveat, this topic does not fall within my comfort zone or my line of expertise. But, do not brush aside this article as ‘Science and Technology,’ because I had done it earlier and it did not help me much. My fascination for the past had stopped me from learning about the future or pondering about what the future might hold for us?

However, my 11-year-old son is exactly the opposite of me. He often talks about concepts such as Time Travel and Artificial Intelligence. His hypothetical questions like, what will happen when robots replace human jobs? Will you buy a self-driven car? Got me thinking… maybe, I have held myself too long from learning about technological innovations. I have failed to notice the proof of Artificial Intelligence developing around me like the Smart TV and Alexa. Hence, I decided to buckle up and do some basic reading about the concept of Artificial Intelligence, and here is a compilation of what I have learnt.

Robot – how did the name come into use?

Karel Capek

It was Mr. Karel Capek, a Czech writer and playwright, who invented the word Robot in one of his plays in 1920. The word Robot is derived from the Czech word for ‘forced labour’. The word came to be used universally for machines that use Artificial Intelligence.

Automation with robotics

Automobiles being setup by automated robots

Machines were invented to make our lives easier. However, humans were required to operate these machines. As a solution to this, automated machines were invented. These machines will do most of the repetitive, complex and dangerous works in the industries easily and swiftly. This innovation is adopted in various industries to do mass production. For example, the automobile industry is hugely benefitted from automation. The manual labour needed to do complex wiring, welding and fixing nuts and bolts are all accomplished by the machines. This way not only time is saved, but also the room for error is very less.

Automated machines are widely used in the medical field for doing examinations and complex surgeries. Such machines are also sent to outer space where they collect samples and take photos efficiently. These machines are also called robots, but they are not humanoids.

Automation without robotics

Using Computer software and other technologies to perform work previously done by humans is automation without robotics. For example, automated answering machines and customer service chatbot uses just software to answer our queries. This software will be programmed with a set of instructions which help them to answer the customers efficiently.

Humanoid with artificial intelligence

Sophia, a humanoid with a citizenship

A humanoid is a robot in the form of a human. Artificial Intelligence is intelligence demonstrated by machines. In most cases, a humanoid is programmed with Artificial Intelligence by the humans to do the works done by humans as efficiently as possible. Sophia is a social humanoid developed by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics.  Sophia became a citizen of Saudi Arabia in 2017. She is the first robot to get citizenship from any country. She was also awarded the ‘Innovation Champion’ award by the United Nations.

Robots in warfare

In the United States of America, robotic dogs and horses are being developed for military use. The Spot is a robot with four legs developed by Boston Dynamics. It can navigate rugged terrains at a good speed and can check for bombs and other dangers with its inbuilt camera.

Robots are also used to diffuse bombs. They have helped to save thousands of human lives. Drones that are remotely controlled by humans are deployed to survey the enemy’s territory. Drones play a major role in warfare these days.

‘Smart’ Homes

A smart device in the kitchen

“Alexa switch on the TV,” “Alexa reduce the AC temperature,” Might be familiar to most of us. Sometimes we would be scared that these technologies can read our minds. This is precisely the work of Artificial Intelligence.  Many of these ‘smart’ home devices, after being used for some time, can adjust the setting on lights, televisions, and so on. This is probably the reason why we get recommendations while watching TV. Sometimes even bizarre incidents happen as a result of Artificial Intelligence.  It is like these tools could read our minds.

Machine Learning and Deep Learning

A girl interacting with a robot

Machine Learning, also known as ML is commonly used along with AI. ML refers to an AI system that can self-learn based on the set of instructions provided. Systems that get smarter and smarter over time without human intervention is Machine Learning. Google services such as translation, automation of mail replies, photo collages and memories created by google photos are all examples of Machine Learning.

What is Deep Learning? It is a small portion of machine learning, which is essentially a neural network (Neural Network – a computer system modelled on the human brain and nervous system). These neural networks attempt to imitate the appearance or character of the behaviour of a human brain. Examples would be a virtual assistant or a driverless car, these technologies use the workings of a human brain to make decisions.

Disadvantages of AI

A major disadvantage is that robots do not have any emotions. Since they work on logic, they lack creativity and imagination. They do not have moral values as well. Innovations in the field of Deep Learning can help to mitigate this problem to some extent, but there will always be a debate on the accuracy of its success. Another disadvantage is, due to the efficiency of robots, human jobs might reduce leading to major unemployment problems.

From what I have realised is most of what our kids learn in school will probably become irrelevant in the next 20 years or so. Even we should continue to reinvent ourselves faster to sustain in this world driven by Automation and Artificial Intelligence.

The rise of powerful AI will be either the best or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity. We do not yet know which.

Stephen Hawking
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