Talking to a computer was just a sci-fi concept fifty years ago and beyond. It was something we could only see in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or TV shows like Star Trek. Too futuristic; all in special visual and sound effects.
That was the time when machines have been helping humans do their jobs with just a turn of a switch. Then came the computers that replaced the typewriters and calculators. Working on word processing and electronic spreadsheets became easy with a few keystrokes. Remember WordStar and Lotus 1-2-3?
But everything changed drastically when the Internet came. Net surfing, e-mails, chat, websites, and online forums became the next big things. Everything became more sophisticated because we started incorporating information into the technology.
Google became a big name in search engine because of bots, a short term for robots. These are programs that scour the worldwide web for information and give you results. Eventually, technology has transformed the simple bots into chatbots.
Chat as an online conversation works well in businesses. It is instant and real-time. That’s why chat tools are used in sales, customer service, and tech support. But having an AI-controlled chatbot as your chat support raises a concern: losing jobs.
Utilizing chatbots online has been around for two years now. I’ve encountered them numerous times with websites’ chat tools that pop up immediately from a corner and introduce themselves as bots with human-like names. You would notice that these are chatbots by the way they’re programmed. “Hi, I’m Jane. I’m a bot. I see that you’re checking something on our website. How may I help you?”
Having chatbots maybe a good idea because it reduces the workload of your help desk because they can easily handle FAQs. But there are other concerns like which platform to use in building chatbots, security features, training the AI behind the chatbots to understand the complexities of the English language, etc. There are still more to learn about artificial intelligence.
Robots Then, Humanoids Now
Did you know that Japan is now facing a population crisis? Married couples are not having children. The population of their senior citizens is rising. Schools are closing because there are no more children. They say that if this trend continues, Japan’s population will reduce in half in the next fifty years.
And do you know what their solution is? Robots! Developing human-like robots will help them maintain their current quality of life.
Hiroshi Ishiguro is the director of Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University. He has developed humanoid robots like Erica, which is considered the most advanced android in the world. Erica has a beautiful face, blinking eyes, breathing-like movements, reacts to touch, and speaks like a human. She has been shown in different science exhibits and online videos.
This goes to show that we have humanized the robots. We have welcomed their existence into our lives. In Nagasaki, the Hen-na Hotel is the first hotel to be run by robots and a few humans. Not only that, the Japanese has already embraced the idea of having robots as companions. Pepper is one of the first commercially available robots that you could buy as a home companion.
In 2002, Chobits, a Japanese manga, became a hit anime. It is a story of Hideki Motusawa who finds an abandoned persocom (personal computer) in human form. The anime gave us the idea that humans and robots can co-exist.
And now, we’re seeing it. Some find it creepy. The perception of eeriness vary from person to person. And this is a reality that we humans have to work through.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
It started with the smartphones, then everything went smart — smartwatches, smartTV, smart refrigerator, smart everything including… wait, what? Smart toothbrush? So okay, soon houses will be smarthouses.
Recently, Google launches Duplex, a human-like voice AI that works with Google Assistant, at their annual I/O developer conference. It demonstrated that this AI can set an appointment for you. It could be anything from making an appointment at a salon, at a clinic, or at a restaurant. Their goal is to create an AI that could imitate humans. They were able to reach that goal: the AI in Duplex sounded human and not like a mechanical computer voice. In fact, the AI could even say “uh-huh” and “hmm”, nuances that we humans do. The programming was almost perfect that you could choose from 6 different voices. And soon, it could imitate you. But the technology is not yet available to the general public.
However, during the demo, there was no indication that the one receiving the call had no idea that she was talking to an AI. The demonstration itself raised an ethical concern. Should we know immediately if we’re talking to a robot/an AI or a real person? Maybe, we should.
It’s getting creepy, like Big Brother meets The Terminator. As we embrace technology, we’re also creating a Frankenstein-ish world. What we created would be the one to destroy us later. Yes, robots can replace humans, but technology can’t replace humanity.
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