Advantages and risks of Artificial Intelligence

Experts predict that the development of AI, the greatest technological challenge in history, will give birth to a new generation of autonomous robots capable of meeting our needs. But will they be a threat?

If we listen to Elon Musk, the visionary tycoon who founded PayPal, the electric vehicle and battery company Tesla or the SpaceX private space corporation, humanity faces a new and formidable threat: artificial intelligence (AI). "It's like those stories in which someone summons the devil. There is always a guy with a pentacle and holy water convinced that this way he can control him, and of course, it does not work", he says.

Your concern has a lot to do with money. The heavyweights of the technology sector are betting strongly in this regard. Google, for example, acquired the company DeepMind, specialized in the development of neural networks in which Musk had already invested. The search giant works in a computer system capable of distinguishing in a video a human face from that of a dog, people skating or sleeping, a cat ... And all by itself and without anyone having put labels on the file previously.

The idea is to learn, so to speak, after 'feeding on millions of recordings'. IBM, for its part, is tuning up its supercomputer Watson, which in 2011 defeated the human champions of the American question and answer contest 'Jeopardy!'. Its intention is to improve the cognitive functions of the ingenuity and to verify its capacities to realize medical diagnoses, analysis of the personality and translations in real time. Facebook engineers are not far behind and have devised an algorithm that allows you to recognize a face successfully 97% of the time, even if it has been misunderstood.

Musk says things are going too fast, and that's why AI is a technology that can be as dangerous as nuclear cases. In the chorus of the doomsayers of the artificial apocalypse highlights the voice of the British philosopher Nick Bostrom, of the University of Oxford, which compares our fate with that of horses, when they were replaced by cars and tractors. In 1915, there was in the USA. UU about twenty-six million of these equines. In the fifties, there were only two million left. The horses were slaughtered to be sold as dog food. For Bostrom, AI poses an existential risk to humanity comparable to the impact of a large asteroid or nuclear holocaust. All this, of course, as long as we can build thinking computers. But what exactly does this mean?

The future that fiction predicts us

Actually, the concept of artificial intelligence is not as recent as it seems. Since the days of Alan Turing - who is considered the father of it - and the construction of his Bombe device, which allowed deciphering the codes of the German Enigma machine, more than seventy years have passed. At one point in the film 'The Imitation Game' (Morten Tyldum, 2014), in which Benedict Cumberbatch plays the famous mathematician, a detective asks him: 'Can machines ever think like humans?'. To which he replies: 'Most people think not'.

The problem is that he is asking a stupid question. Of course, machines can not think like people. They are different, and they think differently. The question is: 'by the fact that something is different, does it mean that you can not think?' The detective then challenges him for the title of his article, 'The Imitation Game'. "It's a game, a test to determine if someone is a human being or a machine," says Turing. 'There is a general theme. A judge asks, and from the answers, decides if he talks to a person or a machine. ' The scene may be invented, but its content is real. The test exists.

AI causes furor thanks to literature and cinema. But what is the actual degree of progress? Years ago, I was at the Robotics Institute in Pittsburgh, USA. UU., One of the temples of this discipline. At that time, he was part of a TVE team that gathered the latest techno-scientific advances in a series of dissemination called 2.Mil. I have to admit: I got a morrocotudo disappointment because of the image of robotics that science fiction has instilled in us.

The gadgets they had there were little more than pots in the hands of engineers in jeans, and they looked like they came from a garage of geeks. They broke down at the slightest opportunity. They told me about Florence, a robot nurse who was going to revolutionize geriatrics. Actually, it was a kind of barrel with a head to which silicon eyes and lips had been stuck to draw smiles.

Florence had a built-in television camera and a monitor. The batteries were running out fast. And, of course, he did not understand what we were saying. Everything he said had to be scheduled in advance, so an engineer worked on piecework to come out into the hall and give us a welcome message.

I had read many things about what they did in Pittsburgh, especially Xavier, a robot that knew where he was going, a revolution. But it was nothing other than another cask with wheels that moved through the corridors of the institute thanks to a map he had in his memory. Before some stairs, he stopped to not kill himself. Apparently, burst into the premises to tell green jokes. That morning I saw Xavier being dragged away, an image I will never forget. I was in the catacombs of robotics! I went to the office of Hans Moravec, one of the most famous visionaries, but everything he said was hard to believe.

Moravec was convinced that in fifty years the androids would displace humans. For more than an hour he was talking non-stop about the evolution of these devices and their growing intelligence, thanks to the advancement of the microprocessors and their ability to handle more and more information. It was a captivating talk. The evolution of the machines was going to be unstoppable. 'The time has come for us to leave,' concluded this scientist born in Austria.

Moravec left the institute to found a company of industrial robots with 3D vision. Before, he had shown me on his computer an image perceived by one where there were chairs and tables that looked pixelated. And how could the machine know what was what? In that summer of 1999, Moravec said he was fascinated by a new internet search engine, the smartest and best designed. It was the first time I heard about Google.

In 2014, Google bought an AI company from Musk and developed the first autonomous car, which has already traveled a couple of million kilometers without a driver, and the system that differentiates cats from people on YouTube. The world is literally invaded by inconceivable amounts of information that circulates through the network and the computing capacity increases incessantly. But do we really have reason to fear that a machine will one day come to think like us?

Marvin Minsky, co-founder of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), awarded by the BBVA Foundation, believes that intelligent machines such as humans will be developed. "However, the time it takes will depend on whether you work on the right problems and money," says Minsky. "It is an enfant terrible", says López de Mantarás, who was at the congress that MIT celebrated in his honor.

'Minsky thinks that the great advances in this field were made between the 60s and the 80s, and then all the ideas regarding AI were abandoned in their general sense'. Thus, what would have remained in the current scenario is the specialization, machines that are extraordinary playing chess, but do not know anything about the ladies or the parchís. 'Specialized AIs are good business, and I'm in favor of them. I would miss more. It is what artificial intelligence is today, "says López de Mantarás.

The generalist research on AI is disappearing. In this world flooded with data, this technology is completely different. The Google Autonomous Car or IBM's Watson Supercomputer analyze terabytes of information to make the right decisions. However, they do not know how to explain how they got there. In other words, when the system spits out its response, it is unable to answer the question, and why? 'We have renounced the reason and we have stayed with what,' laments Pérez de Mantarás.

For example, a few years ago, an expert system that inferred that the patient suffered from pneumonia could justify that diagnosis based on the patient's history and the cultures performed, but now a software as complex as Watson can not. It simply draws a conclusion from the overwhelming amount of data it handles, but does not offer a reason. "This creates acceptance problems on the part of the user," says Pérez de Mantarás.

Let's look at the movie 'Yo, robot' (Alex Proyas, 2004): the streets are full of humanoids that carry the purchase, serve drinks, distribute hot dogs ... If we forget for a moment the fantastic agility they show and the general intelligence that they treasure, what would we have left? It is clear: an army of specialists.

The drones, a manifestation of this trend

The US Air Force maintains more than 8,000 of these devices to combat terrorism, according to the Brookings Institution. In their operations, they have already killed more than 2,500 people. The commercial models, on the other hand, film and investigate anything. For example, equipped with infrared sensors, some can detect which plants are sick or suffer parasitic attacks.

Thus, it is possible to devise a fumigation plan à la carte. Others help control poaching and provide clues to biologists who study bird flights and their trajectories. They are of all kinds. The largest of all, the Eitan, of Israeli manufacture, has a wingspan of 26 m, almost like a Boeing 737. In contrast, the tiny Nano Hummingbird, 16 cm, developed with the support of the Agency for Research Projects Advanced United States Defense (DARPA), could pass for a hummingbird. The robots literally have taken off towards their freedom, although, yes, under human control.

Among the robotic fauna that remains on land we find from the Roomba, a small semiautonomous disk-shaped vacuum cleaner designed by iRobot that has become a commercial success, until the PackBot -of the same firm-, a military rover provided with a robotic arm capable of handling bombs to inspect places contaminated by radioactivity. The TUG, meanwhile, work of Aethon, seems a kind of table with wheels and sensors. Thanks to these last ones, it moves without problems by the corridors of some American hospitals to take medicines and other supplies.

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