Anyone who has seen one or all of the Iron Man movies has, at some point in time, probably found himself wishing for his own personal sentient AI butler like Jarvis! You know you have! Imagine being woken up by a centrally located AI in our house, which controls everything in the house from shower knobs to alarm clocks and would be making us fresh pancakes, while we’d be freshening up! Hollywood has always had quite a bit of fascination for robots, and AI’s, as seen in countless movies, like I, Robot, The Matrix trilogy, the Terminator series, and even Johnny Depp’s Transcendence! And it certainly does feel, that any day now, we’ll be getting our own very own “Just A Really Very Intelligent System” (J.A.R.V.I.S) to order around. But what is the actual reality to that? How far have we actually come in our understanding and creation of a completely self-aware, sentient artificial intelligence that can do everything a human being can?
ANI or Artificial Narrow Intelligence is what is commonly referred to as “weak” AI, or an AI that can only operate in one constrained area of specialization. Think of Deep Blue, the supercomputer that was designed by IBM to beat the world’s chess masters, back in 1997. Deep Blue can do one thing exceptionally well: beat humans at chess… but that’s pretty much it.
You might not realize it, but we’re already surrounded by ANI in our everyday lives. Machines that track your online shopping habits on Flipkart or Amazon and recommend similar products based on thousands of different variables are built on simpler ANIs which “learn” your preferences over time and choose similar products to recommend, accordingly. Another example could be spam filters for your email accounts, which sort through millions of emails at once to decide which are useful, and which ones are the spam emails that can be trashed.
ANI is the helpful, relatively simple application of machine intelligence which all of humanity benefits from, because although it’s capable of processing huge amounts of data at a time, it still operates within a restricted environment that’s limited by the number of transistors we allow it to have at a given time. On the other hand, the AI that people have been growing increasingly wary of is the Artificial General Intelligence, or AGI.
However, as of now, creating anything that can be even remotely referred to as AGI remains a distant dream of computer science, and – if achieved – could completely change everything about the world as we know it. There are several hurdles to overcoming the challenge of creating a true AGI that can actually match up to the human mind, the most difficult among them being that although there are quite a few similarities between the way our brains work and how computers process information, when it actually comes down to interpreting things the way that we do; machines have a really bad habit of getting stuck on minute, trivial details and missing the big picture.
Predicting the weather accurately can be tricky, especially when you have to sift through huge amounts of data, but thanks to artificial intelligence software which is currently being developed, that might change very soon. The software will be able to analyze all the available data at once, and get a clearer and simpler picture of approaching weather phenomena. Then it can automatically issue the relevant early warnings to the authorities, thus saving countless lives! The artificial intelligence software will also be able to help major disasters like forest fires, earthquakes and even help farmers with agriculture. In fact, NASA is currently developing a software program that would be able to help aircrafts dodge any coming storms and danger spots, thereby increasing air safety.
One of the earliest instances of AI we’ve come across in science fiction, from the novels of Isaac Asimov to Rosie in The Jetsons, were robots that could perform simple household chores and eliminate the drudgery from a workplace. That promise has already been partly fulfilled by the invention of programmable robotic vacuum cleaners for your home, which can easily maneuver around obstacles like chairs, tables, and even living beings like your cat or dog! Intelligent robots will not only be able to clean your living room and do the dishes, but may also be able to handle tasks like assembling furniture or caring for kids and pets. Even facilities like Golf and Football stadiums nowadays rely on similar technology to mow their lawns, thus eliminating the need for human labor. The same technology is now used in assembling line robots that can take care of the boring or repetitive tasks. Baxter, an industrial robot, is a good example of this technology, having already been deployed in several factories where it can safely work alongside humans. AI is also being used more and more in tasks like fire-fighting, mine disposal, oil drilling, and handling radioactive materials, tasks which are deemed too dangerous for humans.
Climate change and its main cause, pollution, is a burning issue nowadays, and artificial intelligence will be in the frontlines of this battle. Robots and other devices are being designed to clean up the environment and also reduce the effects of air and water pollution. With the help of sophisticated software programs, these robots will be able to distinguish between biological organisms, and pollutants like oil or hazardous waste, while tiny microbes will consume the waste products, leaving good biological matter intact, and minimizing the damage to the ecosystem. Smart software is also fighting air pollution directly from fuel-burning factories. Chemical pollutants and gases like Carbon Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide are identified and captured before they have a chance to enter the smokestack, ending up in our lungs.
The autonomous, driverless car, is already here thanks to Google, and several US States have already passed legislation clearing them for being driven on the road. Using a LIDAR laser radar system and a range finder, the system lets the vehicle generate a detailed real-time 3D map of its environment. The car then combines these generated maps with actual high-resolution maps of the world, producing different types of data models enabling it to drive itself. Several other manufacturers have already been using similar technology with cameras and sensors in their self-parking models. Although its still gonna be a while before we see the driverless car out on the road in full force, driverless trains already carry passengers from city to city in Japan without any need for human help. Many other cities also use driverless trains, including Dubai, Copenhagen, London, Madrid, and many more. Artificial intelligence being nearly flawless, it takes away responsibility from a distracted driver, and its reaction time is a whole lot faster than a human being’s.
AI and robots will be playing a major role in space travel very soon. As of now, NASA already uses unmanned shuttles, rovers, and probes to explore distant galaxies which would take us years to even reach. Autonomous land rovers have recently given researchers a whole lot of data and photographs from the Martian surface, where the inhospitable conditions make human exploration impossible. These smart vehicles sense nearby obstacles, like craters, and automatically find safe paths of travel around them before returning to the shuttle. AI technology will also help scientists react a lot more quickly to emergencies during manned flights by allowing astronauts to spot and prevent problems before they happen.
Artificial intelligence is widely used in households, to protect families from burglaries and in the military, to protect the country from external threats. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security uses a huge collection of AI technology to safeguard the country, including virtual smart agents to supplement its human workforce, as well as sophisticated software monitoring systems, which monitor phone calls and other communications by analyzing large volumes of data quickly, and sorting out casual conversations from any suspicious information or potential threats. Modern home alarm systems which use AI also distinguish between the house’s occupants and unknown persons, using their programming.
Artificial intelligence is already being used in the field of medicine to help doctors detect diseases and save lives. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is the first to use special software to probe the heart and detect heart attacks before they occur. Artificial muscles use smart technology which mimics the movements of real muscles, and the latest intelligent devices can distinguish between life-saving medications and fake or tainted pills. However, the most impressive use of AI in medical technology are the cutting edge robotic surgery assistants, who assist surgeons by passing them necessary instruments during a procedure, and learning about a doctor’s preferences. There is even AI software that tracks changes in health records to diagnose patients or warn doctors of potential risk factors and problems with medications designed especially for primary care physicians.
Remember Robocop, the Six Million Dollar Man or Darth Vader, for that matter? They all used robotic prosthesis, some a whole lot more than others! The stuff of science fiction will soon be a reality with the fusion of humans and machines. Transhumanism is the ultimate application of artificial intelligence to human life. Artificial intelligence can improve the overall human experience by expanding the limits of the mind and body. The current technological revolution has already immensely changed our lives and is set to transform it even more as transhumanism offers the opportunity to eliminate disabilities, slow aging and even stop death.
With many supporters and protestors, transhumanism is a lot more than just creating “cyborgs”, it would be an entirely new species that people have yet to imagine: a being that’s evolved beyond the current human state, possessing a higher level of reasoning, culture, and physical capabilities. However, there exist several protestors against this, who see it as the most dangerous threat to humanity. There is truth to that, as there are several important ethical implications, particularly those related to cloning and eugenics, however, pursued with caution, we can still preserve our sense of humanity.