Whether it was SpotMini (Boston Dynamics) joining Jeff Bezos for a walk or Sophia (Hanson Robotics) calmly answering questions from panelists, they both triggered a "Wow!" moment in us. However, the days of being awed by such experiences will soon be a routine and normal affair, as per many leading analyst reports.
"Digital Colleague" is another dimension that we will all need to get used to, sooner than we can imagine.
The Future Workplace
Imagining the future workspace where Digital Colleagues (Robots) would work alongside us – my first thought was how easily our kids, the Digital Natives, would adapt to such an environment than most of us – the Digital Immigrants, would.
I firmly believe that AI-enabled robots are going to vastly enhance human capability and most importantly, our capacity to do more. Mr. Juan Martinezi, Senior Writer at IPsoft seems to agree that the human productivity can see an upward push by just having some of these digital colleagues amongst us in the workplace.
Digital colleagues exist even today in the IT world but in the form of invisible, faceless, silent lines of code. However, the future digital colleague will not be just some invisible software that can run intelligent algorithms and do analytics but will be a physical robot that can see you eye to eye and even walk with you to the coffee machine while engaging in a conversation about the weekend sport event that it already knows about that you follow religiously!
Human – Robot Interactions
While there is still confusion where AI is equated with robotics, here we are talking about digital colleagues who are robots with AI capability.
Mr. Munawar Abdullah,ii clears the difference between the two and says that “In today’s day and age, modern technology is designed to bring the world to you through the internet, our televisions and phones, but if this trend continues, robots will soon have the ability to bring you to the world — all at a speed of thought”.
Early challenges involving AI-enabled robots in the IT workplace were of finding the right use case for their deployment or computing their productivity. The future problems that we need to solve like rules and regulations are far more complex – these would form the policies that govern the human-robot interactions, the dos and don’ts for humans (and perhaps for robots too) while they are interacting with the other.
The general perception is that human–robot interactions would evolve from being guarded and questionable on the trust factor to start with, to one where there is a loveable environment where they begin to enjoy each other’s company. As Ms. Heather Knightiii, Social Roboticist at Carnegie Mellon explains in her report “Instead of idolizing machines or disparaging their shortcomings, these human-machine partnerships acknowledge and build upon human capability”. Of course, one of the foremost concerns we, humans, will have in our interaction with robots will be related to safety. Precautions need to be taken during the designing and configuration of the robots to ensure the safety of everybody who works or interacts with the robots. For instance, a simple gesture like a handshake can result in injuries. HD Vision and proximity sensing features will help prevent these potential mishaps to humans during such interactions. So, in this case, when a robot shakes a human hand, it will retract the hand only after the human does.
Should humans be concerned?
We are still talking about the human-robot interaction. What about the possibility of these human-like robots communicating with fellow human-like robots?
That throws at us another ocean of possibilities or adversities. We saw that the faceless Facebook robots Alice and Bob were shut down as they were perceived to have invented their own supposedly gibberish language through which they could communicate, much to the amusement of their own trainers at the FAIR (Facebook AI Research) lab. Does that mean we humans are going to be out-smarted at our own game by enabling AI-powered robots that would no longer listen to us? That leads us to the question about social robotics - are they here to stay? As a digital kiosk can do most of the service support and a lot more than a social robot, will the social robot survive and if so, in what form?
I personally believe good sense will eventually prevail and the coming together of humans and robots will create a better world and enhance experience for us humans.
And most likely, the bots would agree as well!
My quest to understand more about the future of human-robot interactions took me back in time to the days of the early chatbots, after all that is where the first experience we humans, got of what AI could do for us.
When PARRY met ELIZA!
In 1973, during the International Computer Conference, computer science pioneer Vint Cerf set up a conversation between Parryiv and Eliza*. The results, as they say, were … weird and funny – depends on how you look at it!
To conclude, the ball is already set rolling and it is only a matter of time before we humans will accept human-like robots working alongside us.
i Mr. Juan Martinez’s article: https://www.ipsoft.com/2018/04/18/5-ways-digital-colleagues-will-make-your-staff-more-productive/
iii Ms. Heather Knight’s report https://www.brookings.edu/research/how-humans-respond-to-robots-building-public-policy-through-good-design/
iv When PARRY met ELIZA manuscript https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc439
Professor Joseph Weizenbaum at MIT developed the program ELIZA in 1966 that aimed at tricking human beings to believe that they were interacting with a therapist.
In 1972, psychiatrist Kenneth Colby at Stanford University developed PARRY a chat bot that attempted to simulate a person with paranoid schizophrenia. It was described as “ELIZA with attitude” .