Playing chess, driving and even composing music – for many decades, skeptics have argued that these skills will never be mastered by robots with artificial intelligence (AI). Today, one hears fundamentally different projections. Futurologist Yury Vizilter, department head at State Research Institute of Aviation Systems, says functional artificial intelligence will be almost complete by 2020: robots capable of performing tasks that remain the privilege of humans are a footstep away from reality. On the other hand, a few skills are still beyond smart machines: the Digital Trends technology portal has counted at least six. Some sound kind of lightweight, but they clearly show that machine intelligence is still far from fully replacing a person.
We've all seen the film where robots take over the world, with their mechanical bodies causing Hollywood-style screams from unsuspecting (or maybe very suspecting) victims. And, while these kinds of films let us live an alternate reality for an hour and a half, there's always that niggling thought at the backs of our minds telling us that this could actually happen in the not-too-distant future. In fact, the "father of AI", Alan Turing, was beavering away on it in the 1950s. He developed the Turing Test, which had a judge ask questions to a machine and a human. The judge would then have to decide who was the human and, if the computer could fool the judge at least half of the time, it was considered intelligent.
"To me, the human should be more important than the technology," says Steve Wozniak. "The way we think, use our brains, interact with each other, get around with our lives – these should be more important than the technology. The technology should adapt to our ways, our customs, and our concepts of what is right and wrong." So, technology needs to fit in or push off – given the speaker, it's a fascinating statement of principle. Any dinner party discussion about who has most influenced life in the modern era is bound to include Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
Ever since IBM's Deep Blue defeated then world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a six-game contest in May 1997, humanity has been looking over its shoulder as computers have been running up the inside rail. What task that we thought was our exclusive preserve will they conquer next? What jobs will they take? And what jobs will be left for humans when they do? The pessimistic case was partly set out in the Channel 4 series Humans, about a near-future world where intelligent, human-like robots would do routine work, or stand on streets handing out flyers, while some people worked (law and policing seemed to get a pass, mostly) but others were displaced – and angry.
When Google's AlphaGo computer program triumphed over a Go expert earlier this year, a human member of the Google team had to physically move the pieces. Manuela Veloso, the head of Carnegie Mellon's machine learning department, would have done it differently. "I'd require the machine to move the pieces like I do," she says. "That's the world in which I live, which is a physical world." If Google can make cars that drive themselves, surely it could add robotic arms to a Go match.