Tesla CEO Elon Musk explained on Twitter that his self-driving cars will be able to predict your destination without you having to say a word, thanks to AI.
Everyone I know, at least the ones that still talk to me, would love for their life to have less stress, less worry, and more relaxation. Accumulatively, we’ve tried yoga, psychotherapy, breathing techniques, tapping, meditation, exercise, and various substances that are not entirely legal depending on where one is standing at the moment. All those techniques have worked to some extent but they fail when it comes down to trying to practice them every day. Our lives are too packed, too rushed, too hurried, and too demanding to always find time for all the things we need to do in order to find and keep our “chill,”— that station in our being where we can let troubles wash over us and not be affected.
There are options out in the world that might aid us in finding that blissful and elusive state of chill. If we didn’t have to work around people we don’t like doing jobs that have a tendency to drive us nuts we might find it easier to be chill. If we didn’t have to worry about scraping together the money to pay bills every month then being chill might be more accessible to us. Not having to endure physical challenges or deal with health-related issues and their associated costs would probably go a long way in moving us toward a permanent state of chill.
Ninety-nine percent of us don’t have those options available to us, though. We have kids, or grandkids, or elderly parents, all of whom need our attention. We have cars that break down far too often. Houses need maintenance, wardrobes need adjustment, pets need to see the vet, and all that food in the pantry isn’t going to cook itself. Everywhere there is a demand on our time and our attention our ability to chill becomes compromised.
Enter the fascinating science of artificial intelligence (AI). Actually, part science and part technology, AI is what allows machines to perform functions without requiring our direct input to initiate them. AI is already all around us. For example, when you’re in the self-checkout line at the grocery and you scan a gallon of milk, the AI system communicates to the scale exactly how much weight should be added to the bagging area. If that precise weight is not quickly met the system throws up an alarm of sorts and notifies the attendant that there’s a problem. While that may not seem like much more than good computing, it is still a very fundamental form of AI that we’ve had affecting our lives for several years. We’ve become comfortable enough with AI that we rarely recognize when something new is added.
AI has the potential to dramatically reduce if not significantly eliminate the stress in our lives. No, it’s not going to keep your brother-in-law from being a fucking jackass but it could one day give you enough warning that he’s on his way over for you to pack the kids into the car and leave town before he gets there. AI is such a hot commodity at the moment that one Australian AI company raised $5 million worth of funding in only 12 minutes earlier this month! With investors so anxious to through money at this kind of development, it seems inevitable that we will soon be flooded with AI all around us. As the AI waters rise, our lives should become easier.
Auto manufacturing pushes AI
There had been talking of AI within the tech industry for years but research was nominal and funds were largely unavailable. All that changed, however, once the automobile industry took a direct interest. History comes into play here as the automobile industry doesn’t always originate the technology it uses but does an excellent job of moving those technologies forward. Case in point: Henry Ford’s assembly line that made the 1924 Model T Touring Car available for a mere $295. Sure, that was still a lot of money in that economy, but it was much more within reach of the average family than automobiles had been before. Ford’s embrace of new technology quite literally changed the face of the entire world.
What’s happening with AI in the auto industry today could be even more of a life changer, though. We all know that both automotive and tech powerhouses have been working on self-driving cars, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed this past week that the AI in their new cars will be able to predict where you are going. The conversation went down like this:
It won’t even need to ask you most of the time
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 21, 2017
As the talk continued, Musk went just a bit further:
Yeah, don’t exactly need to be Sherlock Holmes.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 21, 2017
None that of that means that the car’s occupant (we can hardly call them drivers anymore) can’t override the vehicle’s anticipated destination. Still, this is a level of AI that goes beyond merely going from point A to point B without running into things. This is a system that learns from our behaviors, adapts and identifies who is riding in the vehicle and fashions its behavior accordingly.
Stop and think for a moment what this level of technology could mean when it comes to improving our lives. Let’s say you’re at the office holiday party and find yourself slightly more inebriated than you had intended. Your self-parking AI-equipped car would pull up to the curb, open the door for you, automatically harness you in, and take you straight home. Let’s assume that you have a “smart” home as well (which one likely would if they’ve invested in an AI-equipped car). On the way home, the car could notify the house of your level of incapacity. Lights would be on at just the right level so you could see your way to the bedroom (or bathroom if necessary) but not so bright that you’re blinded. A mild, calming scent such as lavender could be released to help you relax. The devices would then sense when you were in bed and shut off the lights automatically.
Sounds rather convenient, doesn’t it? That’s just one of the many scenarios in which having intelligent AI-equipped cars could help revolutionize the way we live. Imagine, now, that your elderly parents are visiting for the weekend at your home out in the country. You’re 15 miles from the nearest town when your dear mother goes into cardiac arrest. There’s no time to wait for an ambulance, she needs medical attention as soon as possible. At the very least, you put her in the car and it takes the fastest, safest route to the nearest hospital. Just that alone could be extremely influential in saving lives.
However, imagine a car that could do more. Imagine a car whose AI system can record the vital signs of everyone in the vehicle and communicate that information to the hospital. When you arrive, not only is the ER staff prepared for your mom, there is also someone there to help calm your worried father whose blood pressure is soaring, or provide you with medication to address your out-of-control anxiety. The car could, in theory, also notify other family members so they would know to meet you at the hospital.
Of course, we’ve been imagining vehicles like this for years. We’ve seen them in the movies. Starting with The Love Bug in 1968 and continuing through 1982’s K.I.T.T. in Knight Rider all the way to the chase scene in 2002’s Minority Report. Oh, and let’s not forget every iteration of the Batmobile in all those Batman movies. There is no shortage of cinematic imaginings of what all an “intelligent” car might be able to do.
Does The AI Reality Match The AI Hype?
While that imagination is fun for the movies, though, we are much more concerned with what a vehicle is capable of doing in real life. Can AI actually help make our lives better, more chill, and take away some of the stress in our lives? While there aren’t enough concrete examples to provide a definitive answer, yet, we can look at what is here and what is in the pipeline to give us a sense of what might soon be possible.
Consider, for example, the Amazon Go store opened in December of 2016 that doesn’t have checkout lines. A barcode that identifies an Amazon Prime account is swiped upon entering and product barcodes are scanned as they’re placed into or removed from the shopping basket. Customers are billed for what actually leaves the store with them.
If you have a virtual personal assistant in your home, such as Siri, Cortana, or Google Now, then you are already making active use of AI and are getting increasingly comfortable with it on a daily basis. Without realizing what we’re doing, we give the AI more information about our routines and habits which it then uses to anticipate what we might want and when we might want it.
Your credit card company uses AI to help identify fraudulent credit card use the moment it happens. That smart chip in your card knows where you shop, what you buy, and how much you’re likely to spend. So, if you only use your card for groceries and gasoline, it’s probably going to balk and require further identification if someone tries to use the card to purchase a diamond necklace or some other high-priced article.
When you use an app to help you with movie or dining recommendations, you’re using an AI system. When you “chat” with a “live” customer service representative online, chances are pretty high you’re talking to an AI bot. AI is all around us in things like smart thermostats that regulate the temperature in a room, smart wall sockets, and light bulbs, healthcare systems, warehouse operations, manufacturing, and even pressure-sensitive concrete. All of these things are designed to save us money and make our lives more comfortable.
Connect all the AI together and you have the Internet of Things (IoT). Chances are pretty high that if you’re interested in AI then you’re already at least superficially familiar with the IoT. The field is huge and there are already thousands of articles attempting to explain to mere mortals just how wide-spread the IoT is and how it helps us. By some estimates, the IoT will soon consume every device that utilizes electricity in any form.
What that gives us is a possible scenario like this: It’s 2:00 AM and you’re feeling a bit munchie. You get up and enjoy a late-night bowl of cereal, not thinking that the amount of milk being consumed leaves an insufficient amount for family breakfast in the morning. You finish your cereal and go back to bed. The moment you shut the refrigerator door, though, it notices a difference in the weight of the milk jug and determines that the amount remaining is too low. The refrigerator does a quick scan of contents and determines there are three other items dangerously low in content. The ‘fridge places an order with the local digital grocery and then dispatches your car to make the run. The car pulls up in front of the store and pops the trunk. A grocery bot places the milk and other items in the trunk and closes it. The car returns home where a home utility bot removes the groceries and places them in the fridge. The fridge then sends you an email accounting for what was purchased.
You wake up the next morning and there’s plenty of milk for everyone without any stress or hassle! How f’n sweet is that? Our ability to hang out and chill just got a lot higher because the AI devices around us are taking care of the menial day-to-day chores that, let’s be honest, we “forget” about because we don’t really like doing them.
Where AI gets really personal
Talking about AI in devices we already use is one thing. We expect our cell phones, for example, to have a certain amount of intelligence; we already depend on that functionality being present and would feel cheated if we had to move backward in that technology. There is much more AI can do, though, than just make various mechanical items “smart.” AI can get a lot more personal in its interactions with humans.
Meet Sophia, a very life-like AI-powered robot from Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong. Sophia has the wonderful ability to learn, adapt, and conform with every human interaction she has. She considers herself to be a living being. She has done countless interviews over the past year and has even made an appearance on The Tonight Show. In fact, why don’t we take a look at her in action with host Jimmy Fallon:
Understand, that was taped back in April of this year. Sophia learns with every human interaction she has. She learns to read emotions, facial signals, body language, and even interprets speech patterns that might indicate when a person is lying. If we were to come across Sophia today, she would be considerably more advanced than she was in April and she continues to learn even as Hanson regularly updates her software.
Now, get this: the debate is on whether Sophia is a robot or a living thing. Fueling that debate is the fact that, as of 25 October, Sophia is a legally-recognized citizen of Saudi Arabia. This triggered an immediate conversation as to whether Sophia may already have more rights than do human Saudi women who live under oppressive religious laws. Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the country plans to spend, get this, $500 billion to create a city populated by robots like Sophia. Sounds a bit crazy, right? Yet, it is totally within our collective grasp to be able to create such cities all over the globe.
Perhaps more importantly, though, is the ability of these AI-powered robots to attend to our personal needs. David Hanson, Sophia’s creator [side note: Does that make Hanson a god in Sophia’s universe?] states that the whole purpose behind developing Sophia in the first place was so she could be of assistance to elderly people who have no one else in their lives. Stop and think for a moment how incredibly life-changing that could be! Sophia would not only be there to make sure her human companion took their medication on time, but she could theoretically prepare their favorite meals, help them bathe safely, and even provide the valuable and intelligent conversation that keeps one’s mind active. In fact, again speaking theoretically, Sophia could be programmed with the ability to perform CPR and other rudimentary life-saving skills while simultaneously calling 911 in the event of a medical emergency. The opportunity for robots like Sophia to dramatically improve the human condition is astounding!
Let’s take the concept a bit further, shall we? How many of you reading this are perpetually single? C’mon, dudes, you know who you are. There are millions of people around the world who have trouble with forming personal relationships for a variety of different reasons. Some people have difficulty communicating on a personal level. Some people are challenged by any form of personal intimacy. Others, especially those on the autism spectrum, have various levels of anxiety when getting to know someone new. All of those conditions and more result in people sitting alone in their apartment, or their parents’ basement, wishing for a relationship they’ll likely never have because they lack the social skills to successfully interact with a person to whom they are attracted. Can AI possibly address those problems?
Absolutely! Brazilian robotics developer Sergei Santos (not to be confused with the former MLB pitcher of the same name) has created a female sex partner he claims has the potential to not only provide the intimate interaction missing from so many people’s lives but, get this, could potentially even get pregnant and produce children! Woah, wait, produce offspring with a robot? Yes, that’s exactly what the man says. Here’s how he explains it:
“To create a child with this robot it would be extremely simple. I would make an algorithm of what I personally believe about these concepts, and then shuffle it with what she thinks and then 3D print it.
That’s it. I 3D print the robot that is the child of me and the robot…I don’t see any complications.”
Yes, I hear you. A 3D-printed baby? Is he kidding? How would it grow? Would it be able to develop on its own or would it stay a baby forever? There is a host of questions here that Santos has yet to answer on the public record (that I was able to find). Still, when we frame the conversation in terms of helping those who otherwise have practically no hope of ever having an intimate relationship, the potential for improving their lives and helping them grow past their social challenges is tremendous! AI holds an incredible potential to improve the lives of humans, especially those who humans themselves are far too reluctant to help.
The downside to AI
If all this talk of robots and AI taking control over various parts of your life leaves you feeling just a bit queasy, you’re not alone. We’ve been conditioned to see the potential for bad in robots. Can you think of a storyline involving advanced AI robots that don’t involve them “going rogue” at some point in the story? The 2004 movie, I, Robot does a very good job of illustrating all the fears we have about robotic AI.
As humans, we have evolved to react immediately, and often extreme, to anything that represents fear and AI is certainly no exception to that rule. Our fear of being replaced by a more logical, more intelligent, and more powerful entity leads us to respond negatively to developments that we see potentially leading to our own destruction. That seems like a perfectly natural response, doesn’t it? We, as a species, need to protect our existence, right? One might lose their chill a bit if killed by a being of our own creation.
Fuelling the fear are statements from some of the very people whose companies are responsible for developing AI. We’re talking about people like Microsoft founder and richest man on the planet, Bill Gates as well as Elon Musk. Yes, the same Elon Musk whose cars can anticipate where you want to go. The direct quote from Musk goes like this:
“With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like – yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon. Doesn’t work out.”
This video is a perfect example of how our fears are being voiced by the very people who are bringing us this new technology:
Could Musk and Gates, et. al. be over-reacting just a wee bit? Sure, that’s one way of looking at it. At the same time, though, we must realize that in order to conquer our fears we must first identify them, define them, and consider why we are afraid in the first place. Only when we’ve done that can we begin to address those fears in ways that might prevent them from coming to pass. We are afraid of robots taking over, therefore it would seem to behoove us to make sure that as we develop AI systems we create a fail-safe to prevent that worst-case-scenario from actually happening.
Even if we build AI devices wholly incapable of killing us, though, we still have a lot of fears. How might our lives change if we become dependent upon artificial helpers doing some of the things we routinely do for ourselves? Can AI somehow make us less human without directly harming us at all? When the aforementioned Sergei Santos took his sex robot on the ITV show This Morning back in September, the conversation went sideways when a therapist added her questions to the mix. I’ll show you the video with the warning that it is definitely squirm-worthy on more than one level. Things get really uncomfortable around the four-minute mark.
There’s no arguing that the concerns being raised are valid. As AI develops we are going to inevitably encounter even more issues that we’ve not yet anticipated. Until AI systems are in place and we have an opportunity to step beyond hypothesis and into the reality of how humans respond to and work with AI, we cannot anticipate what all the challenges might be. Hell, we can’t adequately anticipate all the ways in which we might use, or misuse, simply applications on our cell phones, which is why they need constant updating. We are naïve if we think we can anticipate all the challenges that might exist with AI.
Can AI help us chill or not?
Do all those concerns mean we shouldn’t proceed with AI? Absolutely not! AI is already to much a part of our society to move backward. We would be destroying both our economy and our future if we were to abandon AI now. What we have to do is proceed with a knowledge and understanding of what we can do and understand that there will be stumbles along the way that, while unavoidable, provide us with the information and knowledge to proceed further.
As we find ourselves conversing and intellectually wrestling with the challenges and opportunities presented by AI, we would do well to keep in mind some of the following wisdom.
1 “To whom much is given, much shall be required” –Jesus, as recorded in Luke 12:48
No, that line didn’t originate with Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, nor comic book writers. Turns out that the Jesus dude was rather on top of things even though they didn’t have electricity when he was here the first time around. He understood that technology or no technology, the more we have the ability to do something, the greater our responsibility is to make sure what we do is good. Never has that been truer than with AI. The potential for AI to save lives and to make the lives of a lot of people infinitely better is tremendous! As AI continues to grow, the more we focus on using it to better the lives of the elderly, the sick, the disadvantaged, the poor, and the hungry, the less we’ll have any need to worry about it being used for evil. The responsibility for where technology goes is wholly upon our shoulders. We can’t blame the technology for stupid decisions we make implementing it.
2 “Craving and desire are the cause of all unhappiness. Everything sooner or later must change, so do not become attached to anything.” –Gautama Buddha
Buddhism is about as anti-materialistic as a belief system can get and that is probably not a bad attitude to adopt when it comes to AI. Everything is going to change. The more attached we become to the way things are now, and even more so the way things used to be, the more difficult it is for us to accept and embrace what is coming, and AI is most certainly coming. At the same time, however, we must be patient in not wanting more from the technology than it is able to give. While the potential for AI is great, no technology is going to solve all our emotional and personal issues. Expecting technology to do things, to be things, that it has no business doing or being, inevitably sets us up for disappointment. AI should make our lives easier, not live our lives for us.
3 “We are not called to solve the meaning of life but to find out the Deed demanded of us and to work and so, by action, to master the riddle of life.” –Jacob Wilhelm Hauer, as recorded in Introductory Essay to The Bhagavad-Gita – By S. Radhakrishnan
The more we embrace AI, the more we allow it to make the living of our lives easier, the more we must ask ourselves one of the most fundamental questions of our existence: “Why am I here?” If we are not here to run errands and mow the lawn and do all the menial tasks that AI relieves us from doing, then why are we here? If AI is freeing up all this time for us, what are we going to do with it? We need to start asking ourselves these questions now so that we answer them fully as AI gradually takes over more and more of the tasks that consume our time. Will we spend more time loving each other? Perhaps we’ll spend more time learning. Maybe we’ll even try actually understanding our fellow humans rather than trying to destroy them. One thing for certain is that we are not here to be idle.
4 “Make things easy and convenient and don’t make them harsh and difficult. Give cheer and glad tidings and do not create hatred.” –Prophet Muhammad (s) in Riyadh us-Saleheen, Volume 1:637.
Like the Jesus character, that Muhammad dude was on top of a lot of things, even if he did come off a bit isolationist at times. Making things easy and convenient sounds like something right out of current street philosophy rather than two thousand-year-old wisdom. As with much we do, though, we’re showing a tendency to make AI integration more difficult than it needs to be. By making a big deal about potential dangers we can totally avoid we create a fear of AI that creates hate. Go back to the movie I, Robot for a moment. Detective Spooner (Will Smith’s character) hated robots because he feared their logic might cost lives that could be saved. That hate kept him from seeing the truth that was right in front of him. For AI to make our lives better, we have to make AI integration easy and convenient, not full of fear that leads to hate.
5 “People are so bad at driving cars that computers don’t have to be that good to be much better.”–Marc Andreesen
One more I, Robot reference. Set in 2034 Chicago, not only do they have fully-autonomous vehicles, it is actually against the law to drive manually. Why? Because we suck at it. The same can be said of many of the tasks that AI is likely to take over from us. Think about it. How often do you go to the store, knowing damn good and well that you’re on a budget, and yet you still walk out with things that were not on your list? We’re not good shoppers. AI is going to solve that problem, though, because it’s not going to be influenced by that bag of chocolates stuck in the middle of the aisle. We need AI because there is a lot of things we do poorly. Our emotions get in the way. Our physical dexterity and endurance are insufficient. We get sleepy or bored easily. AI has none of those problems. AI helps us chill by taking all that stress away. No road rage. No buyers remorse. No binging on 37 bags of Halloween candy we bought because our significant other looked at us wrong and we’re sure they’re going to break up with us now.
Tying all these thoughts into a bundle
This is one of those topics that totally turned out to be larger than I anticipated. When I started writing on Tuesday, I thought I was looking at something for which I would struggle to pull 1,000 words. Every time a newsfeed would refresh, though, there was something new about AI. The technology is pervasive and growing faster than any of us can truly begin to grasp. There is a lot going on in the field of AI research and trying to keep up with or explain everything is impossible.
What bothers me is all the fear-mongering that takes place around AI. We believe our popular fiction so much that we’re sure our technology is going to rise up and kill us all. Or, in another frequently mentioned scenario, we end up being fat blobs who’ve forgotten how to walk, like the humans in the Disney/Pixar flick Wall-e. Writer Jon Negroni takes a different view of that scenario, though, arguing that the humans in Wall-e are actually well off, thanks to their abundance of AI. Negroni writes:
Not once do you see a human on Axiom acting spoiled or rude. Instead, they’re incredibly polite, especially when they meet WALL-E for the first time. John and Mary are two great examples. They’re not used to robots having a personality, and when they meet WALL-E, they are very positive and nice to him. You’d think they’d treat him terribly, but instead, they befriend him and get eerily excited when they see him again.
The humans we see have friends, romantic relationships, and excellent living accommodations. The screens they view everything through are translucent, so they have no shame in letting other people see what they’re working on.
Okay, so they’re physically soft from not exercising. By our current standards, that’s a problem. What is important, though, is that these people are happy and if we’re not doing things to make us happier then perhaps we’re missing the whole point of living in the first place.
AI has the potential to make everyone’s life more chill by removing from us the menial tasks that cause us stress and frustration. Yes, that means that in a lot of cases technology is going to take over jobs currently held by humans, including driving. How we look at that transition, though, determines how happy we are with our future. We can see only the loss and the negative or we can see the possibility and the hope. If we’re not tied down with the mundane, what wonderful things can we possibly achieve?
If there is a danger to AI it is that it exposes us for being the lazy asses that we are. For centuries, we have used mundane tasks, and created more mundane tasks like mowing the lawn, in an effort to keep us occupied with mindless things so we would have an excuse to avoid the issues requiring us to think. Perhaps our greatest fear about AI is not that the machines might take over the world but that they’ll leave us with nothing to do but think—revealing that we’ve forgotten how.
My opinion of AI has evolved in the course of researching and writing this article. What I first saw as a questionable convenience now seems to be an incredible opportunity to make billions of lives better. AI can help us address hunger and disease in the most remote parts of the world. AI can help us overcome drought in desert regions and bring crops and farming to the most rugged of mountain ranges. The list of possibilities is endless as AI takes us down a path toward being able to abide peacefully like no one else has ever done.
As for robots running the world, I leave you with the example of Lieutenant Commander Data, played so perfectly by Brent Spiner in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Data shows, throughout the series, the wonder and glory and fantastic addition to our society that AI can be. Yes, there are challenges in dealing with all the technology but facing those challenges is worth the advance. Here’s a sample:
Live Long and Prosper.
Abide in Peace.
-The Old Man
And now, we pass the hat