Evolution of artificial intelligence is nothing to fear

May 3, 2016
‘Cognitive computing doesn’t think for you. It does the research, so you can think better’
About the author
Jim Montague is executive editor at Control and Control Design magazines. Jim has spent the last 13 years as an editor and brings a wealth of automation and controls knowledge to the position. For the past eight years, Jim worked at Reed Business Information as news editor for Control Engineering magazine. Jim has a BA in English from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., and lives in Skokie, Ill.

I’m a big fan of common sense, but I’m a little suspicious of conventional wisdom, especially when it appears to be a knee-jerk reaction. For instance, even though visions of red-eyed robots and other forms of artificial intelligence (AI) conquering and eliminating Western Civilization are presented, retold and parodied across every avenue of popular culture, I don’t see those fictions migrating to reality anytime soon.  

Of course, artificial humanoids have been with us since long before the "Terminator" movie franchise. They include the old Jewish legend of the Golem, Mary Shelley’s "Frankenstein," the robotic lady in Fritz Lang’s silent movie "Metropolis," the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz," Robby the Robot in "Forbidden Planet," and all the other sci-fi automatons, simulacrums and androids before and since. Two of the latest are the Terminator-style Ultron and the unfortunately blue-eyed Vision in last year’s "Avengers" movie sequel.

What all these great characters share is that they’re not artificial or alien at all, but are simply reflections of their human creators, readers and viewers. They’re just another effort by us to understand what we are, and what it means to be a person in the world. Hardly a new question, but maybe a new twist on asking it.

Naturally, there are now multiplying numbers of real-world, AI-aided robots in industry, healthcare, entertainment and other mainstream venues, and many people including some intelligent ones are worried this situation could get out of control. In their famous Independent article, Stephen Hawking and his co-authors said, “Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history.Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks.” 

Control’s legendary columnist, Béla Lipták, PE, piled on with, “Is artificial intelligence dangerous?” and reported that AI will need to “share human values” and be “sage and sapient.” I don’t know about you, but I hope AI and super-smart robots can do better than human values. As they’re applied and misapplied, those values haven’t been doing too well lately.  

So who am I to be confident that robots and AI won’t replace humans soon? Well, by myself, I’m nobody in particular, but I do try to find and quote people who know what they’re talking about. For example, Rob High, vice president and CTO of IBM Watson Solutions, reported how AI may evolve as part of his keynote address on cognitive computing during the recent ARC Industry Forum in Orlando.

“There’s a lot of press that cognitive computing will replace human minds, but what we’re interested in is using it to amplify human minds and cognition,” says High. “Cognitive computing doesn’t think for you. It does the research, so you can think better. It frees people’s minds for other capabilities. I’m not worried that we’re going to lose our intellectual spirit. We’re driven to occupy or minds, and I don’t think that’s going to go away.”

As for me, I also rely on precedent, history and parallel situations. These remind me that huge technical and societal shifts are never all one way or the other. TV didn’t replace movies and radio. Computers didn’t replace books and paper. They all go along together.

Admittedly, AI and robots are gaining new capabilities all the time. Just look at the progress of the Atlas robots from Boston Dynamics. Sure, they’re spookily impressive. Still, I’m not going to worry until they successfully babysit a bunch of toddlers and change their diapers, which is a job I’d welcome help with anyway.

Image courtesy of cooldesign at

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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