Manipulative Robots?

Cute Robot

“Siri, where is Smokin’ Joe’s?”
“There are several tobacco shops fairly near you–”
“No, I mean Smokin’ Joe’s, the restaurant.”
“There are several restaurants near you–”
“There are several tobacco shops–”
“Never mind. How about Shogun?”
“There are several gun shops near you–”

Human language is the Holy Grail for artificial intelligence, and we are not yet there. Just try asking that trainable robot to do something for you.

But there certainly has been quite a bit of progress in AI this year, with new robots that can do more than load pallets — and loading pallets is still a pretty keen thing for a robot to do.

Read a round up of new robots, though, and you’ll see that they are heading more toward being like animals than toward being like humans.

Animals have been a source of inspiration of robot movement for years, but we’re not talking about octopi and kangaroos. We’re talking about cute animals like dogs.

The latest breakthroughs in AI are machines that can recognize human emotions and respond accordingly. The way your dog comes up and rests his head on your knee when you come home from a rough day.

The actions these machines can undertake are very limited. With names like Jibo, Pepper, and Buddy, they can order takeout food for you (your dog can’t do that!), greet people, and respond to your emotions. None of them are capable of putting together a paper cup or running a printing press.

But they can take on the appearance of somebody who cares. Even though they don’t. And people, who are susceptible to emotional responses from salesmen, con men, and machines as well as animals, get taken in. We get fond of Siri, Alexa, Jibo, Pepper, and Buddy. Pretty soon we’ll be inventing complex emotional lives for them just the way we do for our dogs.

Automation makes complete sense when we need something that can do tasks that could be dangerous for humans, whether that means operating in a washdown environment or doing repetitive tasks that could lead to carpal tunnel syndrome for human workers. Automating responses to emotions seems a little more creepy. Are we saying that we no longer have time or energy to pay attention to other human beings? That we’d rather delegate emotional connections?

The danger might not be that robots will take away our jobs. It might be that they’ll take away all those little human interactions we have during a day.

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