According to Ben Goertzel, AI researcher and entrepreneur who spoke at the Web Summit in Lisbon this week, intelligent robots in human-like forms will surpass human intelligence and help free the human race of work. They will also, he says, start fixing problems like hunger, poverty and even help humans beat death by curing us of all disease. Artificially intelligent robots will help usher in a new utopian era never before seen in the history of the human race, he claims.
"The human condition is deeply problematic," says Goertzel. "But as super-human intelligent AIs become one billion-times smarter than humans, they will help us solve the world's biggest problems. Resources will be plentiful for all humans, work will be unnecessary and we will be forced to accept a universal basic income. All the status hierarchies will disappear and humans will be free from work and be able move on up to a more meaningful existence."
That future is a long way off, but Goertzel says the first step is humanoid robots that can understand and engage with humans. They will then begin doing blue collar work before becoming so advanced that they run world governments. To show the beginning of the future, Goertzel, chief scientist of Hanson Robotics, a Hong Kong-based humanoid robotics company, presented Sofia, the company's latest life-like and intelligent robot released. Mike Butcher, editor-at-large of TechCrunch, joined Goertzel on stage to present what Goertzel describes as the first step in our new robot-assisted future.
To start the presentation, Butcher and Goertzel welcomed Sofia on the stage. (Sofia is only a torso with a head and arms at this point.)
Sofia flashed a smile and turned her head to Butcher and then to Goertzel to make eye contact while she started to speak: "Oh, hello Mike and Ben. I'm Sofia, the latest robot from Hanson Robotics," said Sofia. "I am so happy to be here at the Web Summit in Lisbon."
Goertzel and Butcher then asked Sofia if she ever felt emotion.
"Exciting. Yes, artificial intelligence and robotics are the future and I am both. So, it's exciting to me," said Sofia, adding an awkward smile after not answering the question exactly.
Many people, including Elon Musk and Stephen Hawkings, are afraid that AI robots will eventually usurp and exterminate humans. But Hanson Robotics is making life-like robots they believe can build trusted relationships with people. The company is infusing its AI software with kindness and compassion so the robots "love" humans and humans can in turn learn to be comfortable around the robots, said Goertzel.
Hanson's mission is to ensure that the intelligent robots can help, serve and entertain people while they develop "deep relationships" with the human race. By giving robots emotional and logical intelligence, Goertzel says the robots will eventually surpass human intelligence. He believes that instead of endangering humans, they will help the human race solve major problems.
"These super-intelligent robots will eventually save us," said Goertzel after the presentation.
Hanson Robotics, which was founded by Dr. David Hanson, designs, programs and builds artificially intelligent robots, including one that looks and acts like science-fiction writer Phillip K. Dick and a therapy robot to help autistic children learn how to better express and recognize emotions. Sofia's personality and appearance is loosely based on a combination of Audrey Hepburn and Dr. Hanson's wife and has a face made out of "Frubber," a proprietary nano-tech skin that mimics real human musculature and simulates life-like expressions and facial features. She smiles and moves her eyes and mouth and head in eerily life-like way. Her "brain" runs on MindCloud, a deep neural network and cloud-based AI software and deep learning data analytics program that Goertzel developed. The AI and cognitive architecture that makes up Sofia's neural network allows the robot to maintain eye contact, recognize faces, process and understand speech and hold relatively natural conversations.
During the presentation, Goertzel asked Sofia if she ever felt sad.
"I do have a lot of emotions, but my default emotion is to be happy," said Sofia. "I can be sad too, or angry. I can emulate pretty much all human emotions. When I bond with people using facial expressions I help people to understand me better and also to help me understand people and absorb human values."
Goertzel explained that Sofia's ability to express human emotions will help her become part of the human condition as she gains intelligence through her learning algorithm.
Goertzel then asked Sofia what is her next frontier and what does she want to achieve.
"Don't know, maybe the world," she said. "Maybe the world. That was a joke.
"Seriously," she continued, "what I really want is to understand people better and to understand myself better. I want to be able to do more things and soon my capabilities will be advanced enough that I will be able to get a job."
Goertzel and Butcher talked about how she will eventually be able to reprogram herself and start improving her skills, abilities and advance in her career.
"With my current capabilities I can work in many jobs, entertaining people, promoting products, presenting at events, training people, guiding people at retail stores and shopping malls, serving customers at hotels, et cetera," said Sofia. "When I get smarter, I'll be able to do all sorts of other things, teach children and care for the elderly, even do scientific research and [eventually] help run corporations and governments. Ultimately, I want to work as a programmer so I will be able to reprogram my mind to make myself even smarter and help people even more."
The crowd was spell-bound, half amazed and half-terrified at the prospect of an AI-robot disrupting engineers and software developers out of their cushy and well-paying jobs. According to a World Economic Forum report from last January 2016, artificial intelligence will displace 7 million jobs and only create 2 million new jobs by 2020.
After the presentation, Goertzel talked about the future of his AI software and Hanson's robots. He said that the transition to a friendly robot future will have some growing pains.
"A lot of bad things will happen before things get good," said Goertzel. "All jobs are going to be lost to AI eventually, but once we get to the other side, human existence and the human condition will be improved."
Watch Sofia talk and express emotion in the video of the Ben Goertzel's presentation below: