Will the robots overthrow society?

Norwegian expert Jim Tørresen discusses the future of artificial intelligence

Jim Tørresen - robotics, Oslo

Photo: :mrMark: / Flickr
Who, me? Are robots the innocent tools they’d have us believe, or a threat to our jobs and lives?

Julie Vissgren
Editor-in-Chief, Innomag.no

Robots are already more intelligent than we people in several areas, and the fear that they will take over the world is very big. Will technology make “Ola and Kari Nordmann” unemployed? What needs to be done to optimize the benefits of artificial intelligence and reduce the potential for harm?

“Gradually, the robot management systems have become more advanced and independent in terms of being able to learn to do tasks on their own,” explains Jim Tørresen, who heads the research group for Robotics and Intelligent Systems at the University of Oslo. “The ability to learn and improve their own behavior through artificial intelligence has led some to use robot to mean software that can learn,” replied Tørresen. “This leads to an unclear distinction between such types of ‘robots’ and artificial intelligence.”

In many areas, artificial intelligence already exceeds human intelligence. This applies to examples of counting of numbers and in computer games.

“Nevertheless, the limitation is that artificial intelligence programs are highly specialized,” said Tørresen. “They are trained to solve a limited problem, and if they are set to solve other problems, they often do not do it well. … The systems today have little foresight, compared to us people. These are the areas researchers want to improve within this field.”

Tørresen believes artificial intelligence will make our technological environment ever more helpful and adaptable in the future.

“Behind the next turn comes driverless cars,” he said. “They will make our lives easier and safer for us. Perhaps, the environment will also be positively affected by more efficient transport.”

Robots will also be able to help elderly living at home, giving them more independence and increased security using sensor technology, something Tørresen and the team at the University of Oslo are looking into in the Multimodal Elderly Care Systems (MECS) Project, funded by the Research Council of Norway. The project is being carried out in collaboration with older people and revolves around how a mobile robot can function as an automatic security alarm.

On the downside, a study conducted by McKinsey Global Institute in 2017 estimated that up to 800 million jobs may disappear by 2030 due to automation.

“Automation has so far largely had positive effects and helped improve the working environment,” said Tørresen. “People now need to do fewer routine jobs, and the jobs have become less laborious. Robots … can make structured and repeat operations far more efficient—and without getting tired.”

Tørresen also believes that technology has made it possible for more people with limited skills and training to do more demanding jobs.

“In the past, the fear has proven to be unfounded, since the number of jobs in society has become more rather than fewer. What the future will bring is unclear, but it will undoubtedly require less effort as we increase the degree of automation.”

Several leading tech giants, including Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, and Elon Musk, fear that artificial intelligence could pose a threat to humanity. Musk stated in 2014 during a lecture at MIT that artificial intelligence was probably the greatest threat humanity faced today, comparing the development of the technology with “calling on the demon.”

Therefore, to prevent a future in which robots take over, Musk developed the startup company Neuralink Corp., which works to connect biological intelligence with digital intelligence. According to Musk, the way this can be done is to implement a layer of artificial intelligence using small electrodes in the brain, and in this way give people the ability to reach a higher level of functioning.

Tørresen believes that the real challenge will be electronic security rather than the systems themselves taking control.

“It is a challenge determining how much autonomy a robot is to be given, and to what degree different autonomous systems can make decisions without human intervention,” he says. “But this will not only be up to designers to decide, but also up to politicians to regulate.

“I think that the biggest challenge associated with the technologies we deal with today is to protect computer systems against unauthorized access and control of the systems or misuse of information. … The introduction of self-driving cars is a good example of the fact that technology development must also be concerned with another type of security, namely physical safety.”

This article was originally published in Norwegian in the Aug. 13 innomag.no (www.innomag.no/5-tech-trender-som-vil-dominere-fremtiden-ai-med-professor-jim-torresen) as part of a series on five tech trends and their future, including IoT, Big Data, 3D printing, and blockchain, which originally appeared in the print edition.

This article was originally published in Norwegian in the Aug. 13 innomag.no (www.innomag.no/5-tech-trender-som-vil-dominere-fremtiden-ai-med-professor-jim-torresen) as part of a series on five tech trends and their future, including IoT, Big Data, 3D printing, and blockchain, which originally appeared in the print edition.
This article originally appeared in the September 21, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.