Hello, super intelligence. Will robots get along with mortals?

A new breed of humans and machine will form the coming plutocracy.

By Shalini Verma (Real & Virtual)

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Published: Mon 30 Dec 2019, 10:17 PM

Last updated: Tue 31 Dec 2019, 12:19 AM

Driverless cars are coming to Dubai." I said.
"Yes, madam," replied my driver in a decisive tone. He knows that a driverless car is on its way to potentially compete with him for his job. He is not ready to throw in the towel.
But the robots are coming.
I start to imagine placing an order on Amazon for a robot skilled in housework preferably with 10 years warranty. It would be even more convenient if skills specific to my home and my finicky idiosyncrasies could be transferred to the next generation of robots through an Apple ID-like service. But evidently there is more to robots.
Many scientists and futurists have predicted the inevitable human-machine singularity.
Most of them got the dates wrong. While some predicted it to happen in 2030, yet today we know that artificial intelligence despite making huge strides is still nowhere near human intelligence. But what if we did achieve this in 10 years? How would things pan out for us?
If I did an Einstein-like thought experiment about the future, many different scenarios play out along the intelligent automation spectrum. While the most obvious one is of robots taking over our lives en masse, but I am tempted to imagine that even this singularity will be far more nuanced than prevailing notions have us believe. Machine will simply not displace humans.
Yet our radical mind instantly conjures up scenes from Nazi-era Nuremberg, where an army of machines are marching down the street and saluting their Hitler-esque lord and master who could perhaps be a human or a machine or a combination thereof.
As the human-machine continuum slowly collapses, the line between humans and machines will be increasingly blurred, making it hard to distinguish between them. This will pave the way for new breeds of super-intelligent and super-efficient beings such as humanoids, human cyborgs, bionic humans - all functioning somewhere between a machine and a human. Add animals to this mix. The military have been working on cyborg insects and other sophisticated robots that will transmit data and become a proxy for our military efforts.
Humans will initially take up roles that they can perform better than machines. Almost always, robotization will start from the bottom. Undoubtedly the drudge work, the repetitive, dangerous, menial, labor-intensive tasks will first go to robots. Then again precision work such as brain surgeries and apprehending criminals on the run will be better performed by robots. Robots equipped with sensors will start to learn perceptual and motor skills just as children do. This is when automation will see an explosion of possibilities.
Countries with an aging population as well as city and island states will have more robots mingling with humans. At some point in the conceivable future the numbers will flip, and robots and humanoids will outnumber the pure human population, just as Internet of Things far outnumber humans today. Pure humans will be happy to become more productive, to focus on creativity and self-actualization.
In the logical progression of automation, organisational hierarchies will start to see humanoids and robots as pack leaders trained to supervise their pack of robots and humans operating in a certain area. Pure humans will slowly realise that if they had a bionic arm, they would be more productive in their work-life. It would be easy to order a bionic arm or leg and walk into a specialist hospital to have it retrofitted. These hybrid pack leaders will move up the organisational ladder to swallow leadership positions.
Intelligent robots will likely not be lone rangers but an organised network of machines that will attain the kind of super-intelligence to act autonomously. Yet it is only when they attain self-awareness that pure humans could be reduced to the position of minions in what will be a pure machine hegemony. It is easy to imagine that these networked machines and humanoids will be controlled by a few. But it is hard to ascertain which breed of humans and machine will form this plutocracy.
In this new hybrid world, humans and robots will be taxed, some a little more than the others. There will inevitably be a clash of ideologies among humans and machines and those in between. Ostensibly, the world will be no different, full of diversity; complete with law abiding citizens and criminals; with libertarians, statists, fanatics, centrists, liberals, and conservatives locked in race, nationality and identity debates. Luddites resisting new technology will also exist. Those suspected of harbouring anti-machine ideologies would be sent to detention camps to have their brains configured. After all intelligent machines will have human history to learn from.
While we don't know if such a future will happen in our lifetime, we know that our children will certainly compete with humans and machines. The robotisation of the human civilisation will be slow and protracted, and not an overnight coup d'état. It will happen under our watch with complete human assent, complicity and participation. It is in our interest to build a more humane, inclusive and equitable society today so that robots in future emulate the better version of our history.
- Shalini Verma is CEO of PIVOT technologies

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