The Daily Telegraph

The truth about our fear of robots

- Linda Blair is a clinical psychologi­st. To order her book, The Key to Calm (Hodder & Stoughton), for £12.99, call 0844 871 1514 or visit Watch her give advice at video/mind-healing/ Linda Blair

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.”

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