The Daily Telegraph
The truth about our fear of robots
Breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) and their embodiment – robotics – are occurring on an almost daily basis. Robots can now perform many human tasks more deftly than we could ever manage. They save us from having to carry out vast numbers of boring tasks, and have revolutionised many professions. Yet when anyone mentions robots, more often than not our immediate reaction is to feel anxious and suspicious, to conjure up frightening scenes from Blade Runner. Why are we so frightened of them? First, we worry that they will take our jobs. To some extent, this is true – for example, the introduction of driverless cars may threaten the positions of professional drivers. We also fear that robots will “taketak over”, that we’ll lose contr control of them. Again, this fear has some basis. Intelli Intelligence – the ability to a acquire and apply kno knowledge and skills – can be divided into fo four areas: beha behavioural, cogn cognitive (pro (problemsol solving), em emotional and mora moral/ethical. Robots al already show rem remarkable behavio behavioural and cognitivecog intellig intelligence. Some appeara to have em emotional intelligenceintellig – although, as the android in sci-fi film Ex Machina says, she can recognise emotions but she cannot feel them. The moral/ethical dimension is the one not yet shared by robots, although that may be because we have no universally agreed code of ethics from which to create an algorithm.
Another worry is whether we’ll be able to tell the difference between a human-like robot (an android) and a real human. As Kurt Gray and Daniel Wegner at the University of North Carolina showed, we’re not that bothered by robots’ ability to act and do – it’s only when we believe they can feel and sense that we become anxious.
And finally, advances in technology are happening so fast that most of us haven’t kept up, making us feel unsettled.
Given the speed of technological advancement, what can be done to alleviate our fears? The best option is to educate yourself. Learn the terminology, and keep up with progress. We must also push for a major rethink about how much time we should expect to work in future. This, as professor of robot ethics Alan Winfield explained when interviewed recently on BBC Radio 4, has implications for how wealth will be distributed as well.
And, perhaps most important of all, we must prioritise not only the technological development of our robots, but their ethical programming as well. Prof Stephen Hawking summed up this challenge best at the 2015 Zeitgeist Conference in London, when he said: “Computers will overtake humans with AI within the next 100 years. When that happens, we need to make sure the computers have goals aligned with ours.”