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10/22/2007

The state of our robotic overlords

On some days, it seems like robots are bound to put us all in boxes. On others, they just seem to be struggling to catch up. And today? Well, today is a little bit of both.

Wired’s Danger Room blog has been following an incident in South Africa where a robotic gun malfunctioned and killed nine people. There’s some doubt as to whether the “robot” part of the gun had anything to do with the accident. But as Wired’s Noah Schachtman reports, it wouldn’t be the first time something strange has happened with these kinds of weapons.

But before you go welcoming our new robotic overlords, the path to robot world domination has hit a snag: they’re just not getting smart enough, fast enough. So says MIT’s Marvin Minsky in a recent lecture. From the notes accompanying video of the lecture:

Marvin Minsky is worried that after making great strides in its infancy, AI has lost its way, getting bogged down in different theories of machine learning. Researchers have tried to invent single techniques that could deal with all problems, but each method works only in certain domains. Minsky believes were facing an AI emergency, since soon there wont be enough human workers to perform the necessary tasks for our rapidly aging population.

So while we have a computer program that can beat a world chess champion, we dont have one that can reach for an umbrella on a rainy day, or put a pillow in a pillow case. For a machine to have common sense, it must know 50 million such things, and like a human, activate different kinds of expertise in different realms of thought, says Minsky.

So, to recap: We’re having trouble developing robots with common sense, yet we’re giving them guns. Um, somebody’s still working on that robot code of ethics, right?

-Greg Dahlmann

(Minsky link via)

Earlier on blog.bioethics.net:
+ And you thought gay marriage was controversial
+ Living, dying and playing with robots
+ Asimov would be pleased

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