Robots That Peek Into Your Future

What happens when robots are programmed to be a few steps ahead of their creators?

Leah Zitter
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Sometimes, one wonders whether the AI programmers want to turn you into robots. Have you heard of Asimov’s three rules of a robot? It’s not allowed to harm you and has to intervene if you’re hurt. It has to obey all your orders, except when they conflict with the First Law. It has to protect itself, as long as such protection doesn’t conflict with the First or Second Law.

Now, isn’t it possible, that you can be harmed through copious petting where our abilities atrophy, our muscles and bones weaken, and our minds decay? Isn't that’s a violation of the First Law? It seems possible that’s what happening to us right here right now.

A Computer That Can Predict The Future

Last week, scientists in the University of Bonn published a journal article on their robot that knows five minutes ahead of time what your next action while cooking your meal will be. The robot prevents you from as much as sticking out your hand to grab that salt shaker from the kitchen counter.

Two minutes before you want to season your pumpkin soup, it reaches out for that said shaker and sprinkles your soup with the precise amount of salt you had intended two minutes earlier.

Teaching Computers to Predict the Future

Computers and robots remain very poor at sensing even a moment beyond current time, something 99% of humans can do. The German researchers developed self-learning software that could program computers to predict several seconds into the future. Nothing insignificant for us (actually, such a tool would be sad), but it’s tremendous for robots.

The algorithm is based on two aspects of machine learning. First, is a recurrent neural network that predicts for a given sequence of inferred activities the character and length of time of the next activity. The second is a convolutional neural network, which predicts a matrix that encodes the length and the description labels of those anticipated activities.

Trial in the Kitchen

With the cooking trial, the researchers used 40 different cooking videos. In each video, a cook prepared different salads. Each clip lasted about six minutes, with each clip containing about twenty different actions. These videos were shown to a computer, so it began to learn which actions tended to follow each other during the salad preparation task and for how long they tended to last.

The computer was then tested on its learning and achieved 40%. Predictably, the longer into the future the software attempted to predict, the worse its results were. However, for the German researchers, this was a tremendous step forward. Almost like walking on the Moon! They’d actually made a computer correctly guess your next actions, even if these predictions were less than eight minutes.

This is the first step, and the scientists now talk of a new field: activity prediction.

Implications of Psychic Robots?

Your wife, child, or someone else that’s close to you may seem like they’re able to read your mind. However, are they able to be there to help you whenever, wherever, and without any fuss? To obsequiously fulfill your every need? If not, that’s where robots come in. A few weeks ago, we spoke about door-opening robots, dishwashing robots, a robot chef, a robot that makes your bed, and even hair-washing robot.

To summarize, the first scampers to the door, extends a crane from its back, grips the door handle and yanks it open. The second stands on stools or chairs, puts dishes into dishwasher, and piles them on cupboard shelves. The robot chef cooks 2,000 meals, is a five-star chef, and able to learn all sorts of recipes.

Meanwhile, the bed-making robot whirls and spins around your bed and fluffs up your duvet and pillows. In 60 seconds flat you have a bed as smart as that in any hospital. In my opinion, the hair-washing robot surpasses the rest. It plunks you into a plush chair and whispers little “coo-coo” sounds as it massages your hair with its 16 fingers.

“Gentle robot” shampoos, massages, and rinses your hair, after which it gives you your favorite massage. All of these robots have one thing in common… they’re in the driver's seat, while you’re in the baby seat strapped in the back. The German researchers brought the future closer. Until now, you had to program robots every step of the way.

Robots will now be several steps ahead, taking you where they “read” you want to go. Imagine a kitchen robot that passes the salt and sugar just as they are needed, or pre-heats the oven second before you plan to do so. Imagine a robot vacuum cleaner that “reads” your mind and knows which room you want to vacuum next, so it changes direction to go there.

Or a robot that hands you the Banana Republic sweater and jeans you want to wear and dresses you in the morning. No programming, it simply reads your mind. Now, how about if machines read your mind and know, ten second from now, you’ll want to pull their plug? Given their new abilities, can’t they hamper you and continue running? That is, if they’re able to become as humanoid as scientists strive to make them.