Experts See Robots Mirroring Human Evolution

Robot-eric-joyner-20080512-100909 “I see a strong parallel between the evolution of robot intelligence and the biological intelligence that preceded it. The largest nervous systems doubled in size about every fifteen million years since the Cambrian explosion 550 million years ago. Robot controllers double in complexity (processing power) every year or two. They are now barely at the lower range of vertebrate complexity, but should catch up with us within a half century."

Hans Moravec,  pioneer in mobile robot researcher and founder of Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute.

According toMoravec, our robot creations are evolving similar to how life on Earth evolved, only at warp speed. By his calculations, by mid-century no human task, physical or intellectual, will be beyond the scope of robots.

Here is a summary of his educated predictions for the future of robotics up until they can do everything we can do:

2010: A first generation of broadly-capable "universal robots" will emerge. The “servant” robots, will be able to run application programs for many simple chores. These machines will have mental power and inflexible behavior analogous to small reptiles. According to MIT economists who have studied labor statistics and increasing disparity in pay among low- and high-skilled jobs have found that with robotic automation the future of manufacturing, medicine and other fields, less-educated Americans will be left behind. David Autor, an MIT economist, found in a study this spring that certain occupations that consist of routine tasks are more vulnerable to automation.

2015: Utility robots host programs for several tasks. Larger "Utility Robots" with manipulator arms able to run several different programs to perform different tasks may follow single-purpose home robots. Their tens of billion calculation per second computers would support narrow inflexible competences, perhaps comparable to the skills of an amphibian, like a frog.

2020: Universal robots host programs for most simple chores. Larger machines with manipulator arms and the ability to perform several different tasks may follow, culminating eventually in human-scale "universal" robots that can run application programs for most simple chores. Their tens of billion calculation per second lizard-scale minds would execute application programs with reptilian inflexibility.
2030: Robot competence will become comparable to larger mammals. In the decades following the first universal robots, a second generation with mammallike brainpower and cognitive ability will emerge. They will have a conditioned learning mechanism, and steer among alternative paths in their application programs on the basis of past experience, gradually adapting to their special circumstances. A third generation will think like small primates and maintain physical, cultural and psychological models of their world to mentally rehearse and optimize tasks before physically performing them. A fourth, humanlike, generation will abstract and reason from the world model.

If Moravec is correct in his predictions, if won’t be long before robots have cognition. With daily breakthroughs happening in the robotic community—it may happen even sooner. Not only will they be able to think autonomously, but robot intelligence and capabilities would equal (and most likely quickly surpass) any human capability.

That likely possibility begs the question, what happens when robots are superior to their creators? Will they still be subservient to us, or will the popular “robot takeover” of sci-fi movies become reality? We love robots as much as the next geek, but maybe we need some sort of plan for when they stop loving us…

On the other hand, others believe that it is humans who will evolve into advanced “robots”. Their belief is that with futuristc technologies being developed in multiple fields, human intelligence may eventually be able to “escape its ensnarement in biological tissue” and be able to move freely across boundaries that can’t support flesh and blood—while still retaining our identities. That idea seems much further away, but whatever the case may be—there are changes ahead.

Posted by Rebecca Sato with Casey Kazan

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 Image credit: “What We Ought Not, We Do” (2006) by Eric Joyner


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