Ever since Alan Turing provided a test definition for a machine to present artificial intelligence we have been wondering about and even fearing the possibility of a machine with a greater intelligence than ourselves. Wonder no longer.
Scientists have never left this matter alone. While we lacked a machine that could meet Turing’s test the possibility has always been there. More importantly we have not had active machines – robots – awaiting an opportunity to surprise us.
Until the recent past. Robots started as science fiction and science has shown us they are no longer fiction. From playful toys to those incredible machines that enable surgeons to undertake robotic surgery.
From those robots in the space programs to the ones doing the hoovering and cutting the lawn. All of them have been under our control.
How much longer will that last? The possibility of Artificial Intelligence can now be thought of as not far off. This has provoked scientists into thoughts about ethics, legality and most importantly safety. Our safety. If robots cannot think as we do then we need to ensure that their overriding control is our safety.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is providing funding for a project that is intended to lay down the ground rules. Well, thank goodness for that! At last we learn of one quango that may be considered as absolutely essential.
Over the last half century science and engineering has brought about a quite incredible range of advances and improvements that have enriched our lives. One of the most obvious is the car.
No longer have we to experience the long list of failures – plugs, points, batteries, tyres, rust et al – and instead we now have luxury, in comparison, from even the cheapest cars coming off production lines today.
Yet the improvements and greater changes keep coming. The driverless car is here. Already prowling roads in the US it will not be long before we are being offered the chance to own one. Will we adopt it with eager anticipation? Many will doubt its usefulness let alone taking over that very British determination to retain manual gear changing.
But consider this: the computer reacts almost instantaneously (in milliseconds). Where it takes us drivers seconds to think, more to react and the stopping distances involved, the computer applies the brakes before we may realise the danger. Better cars; faster cars; same human brain.
Today’s drivers face more possible dangers than before. Maybe we will realise that this is one area where intelligent computing can be beneficial for all of us.