U3A conference news
Fears that robots will take over the world any time soon are greatly exaggerated, U3A members have been assured.
Even though robots have revolutionised such things as car manufacturing the machines have merely been programmed to carry out simple tasks, Dr Nick Hawes, Reader in AI Robotics at Birmingham University, told delegates at the U3A conference in Nottingham.
He said that programming a robot to carry out simple tasks was extremely complex and the machine was neither thinking or understanding what it was doing.
“They are just dumb puppets. They are just reading a script,” he said.
Dr Hawes is involved with research into how robots can work with and for humans. He said that the robots had to understand perception, decision-making and action.
But this had proved to be very complex. “We have to get the robot to recognise a human being so that they don’t knock them over. In one case we had great difficulty because the robot kept mistaking a pot plant for a person.”
Dr Hawes said there had been a lot of scaremongering about singularity, which had been put forward as the point where machines became more intelligent than humans. It had been suggested that this point would be reached in 2020.
“However, the speed a computer can calculate something does not equate with intelligence,” he said.
One of the biggest advances, he said, was the development of driverless cars which, he predicted, would revolutionise our lives.
There were still problems to be overcome here though. “A French university has been working on the problem of how such a car would deal with the problem of an unavoidable crash.
“Should the car hit, and kill, a pedestrian, or crash the car and kill the driver?” he said. “Researchers found that it obviously depended on who you asked – the pedestrian or the driver.”
Other problems he highlighted included military machines that could be programmed to kill and the societal impact of robots taking over such jobs as cleaning and taxi driving.