Robotics and AI encourage Product and Service Innovation

Robotics and AI encourage Product and Service Innovation

Modis Posted 13 April 2016

When you mention robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) in conversation, images from blockbuster Hollywood movies often spring to mind, usually including the Terminator, Transformer, or Iron Man franchises or perhaps those with families will consider Wall-E, a Disney offering. A select few may consider the robots used in auto manufacturing, or the Citroen 'dancing car' adverts. It is worth noting that most of their autos lack these Transformer-type qualities.

Let's face it, androids like Data in Star Trek's Next Generation series are firmly entrenched in the realms of science fiction and our technology is in no way prepared to even start developing products of this type. If the build was possible, battery life is sure to be an issue when you consider the hours currently available on laptops, tablets and smartphones. Our Data would definitely need a 'hibernate' function and a battery the size of a small sedan.

Human Replacements

By Data's standards, our robots are dumb, really dumb. In most cases, they are designed to perform precise yet repetitive tasks, acting as replacements for human counterparts that could and have contemplated the meaning of life and their contribution to future generations while performing mundane tasks in a production line or similar boring environment. While jobs are lost due to the introduction of robots that do not care about the approaching weekend or suffer from its after effects, robot adoption creates other jobs (in design, support, machine learning, robotics, data analytics and swarm intelligence), improves product quality and increases productivity.

Welding and painting are just some of the areas robotics are used in the auto industry, producing error-free results every time, unlike their human predecessors who now monitor for defects. Robots are used in many industries, including but not limited to manufacturing, educational, industrial and last but not least, entertainment. The BB8 Star Wars Robot is now available to consumers for under $150 and boasts elements of autonomous behavior or AI, a far cry from the toy robots available in our youth. Hardly a scientific or academic example of the progression of robotics in the last twenty year or so but an example nonetheless.

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The Holy Grail and Racism

The Holy Grail of the AI world is, and will be for the foreseeable future, the creation of a neural net (using a combination of hardware and software) that will compare favorably with the human brain. While it may not seem like it at times, given the quality of political candidates, the human brain has far more storage and processing power than even the fastest gaming computers. It is this fact more than any other that limits AI development. Endowing robots with 'intelligence' is a complex task and the reason data scientists, who are specialists in machine learning and advanced mathematics, employ adaptive and predictive algorithms that allow 'learning 'to take place. By analyzing what has already happened, the program (which in turn can link with a robot) can learn and make decisions.

Technology limits notwithstanding, today's applications of AI are making a tangible difference to our lives. Improvements in speech and image recognition are only possible through machine learning. Other examples include Facebook's AI generates verbal descriptions of images for blind users and Amazon's Alexa AI, part of its vision for voice controlled smart homes. Interesting (and funny) to note that Microsoft's Tay, an AI designed to learn from and communicate with millennials, turned racist in just a few hours of connecting to Twitter. Is this what millennials have to teach us?

Editor's Note: Yes, we know it was a small number of trolls, most of whom probably live in their parents' basement and listen to One Direction while 'sexting' their extended family.

New Skills

In the non-consumer market, AI is driving big business, whether in data analytics or in predictions of shopping habits, based on browsing history and more. It is also used to gather vast amounts of data (in the form of satellite imagery), analyze it and predict the weather, crop yields and effects of climate change.

Robots, with or without AI, are programmed and employment prospects for those with skills in machine learning, data analytics, high performance computing (HPC), sensors and related application software and many other areas are in high demand. This is no surprise when you consider the expected adoption rates of Internet of Things (IoT), with billions of devices connected by 2020. We can look forward to being always connected with the home, office, car and even domestic appliances assigned their own IP addresses.

AI is the future and as long as Asimov's three laws of Robotics hold up (some doubt it), advances in technology will ensure that the human race can enjoy a bedridden existence. Robots, delivery drones, smart cities and speech recognition will combine to satisfy our every need. Have you seen the Matrix movies or indeed Wall-E? Can we adopt AI without sacrificing our humanity all the way?

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