Elon Musk, the richest man on earth, founder of SpaceX with its idea of reusable rocket and maker of electric cars from his company, Tesla inc., has now embarked on his new project of making humanoid robots.
Recently, he presented a prototype of his yet-to-be-made humanoid robot, Optimus, at a Silicon Valley event. The prototype of the humanoid robot to be made, however, was still on wheels as it could not walk -- a humanoid robot, though, no one could make one so far, should, in theory, be able to walk and do many other things humans do. Even so, the one shown on the annual Tesla AI (Artificial Intelligence) Day presentation could at least wave to the audience and raise its knees. A video of the upcoming humanlike robot, Optimus, was screened which showed that the machine could do some simple things like lifting bars, carrying boxes and watering plants. How simple and uninteresting those acts appear when humans do them! And to think that long after scientists developed intelligent machines that we now know how difficult and complex these tasks of just lifting something from the ground and taking it to another place are!
But why making humanoid robots? Robots, automated machines capable of doing specific tasks with speed and precision with little or no human help, are already in use to save labour. Apart from those used in domestic, educational or space research purposes, some three million industrial robots are already engaged at different workplaces across the world, says a World Robotics report. And going by the trend in the use of robots so far, which has tripled in the last two decades, by 2030 the number is projected to rise to 20 million of which 14 million may be in China.
Though these special-purpose robots are helping their users, no doubt to the latter's satisfaction, innovators and entrepreneurs are still not satisfied. They want to materialise their fantasy of making a sci-fi-style automaton, an android.
It may be recalled at this point what this ambitious entrepreneur along with more than a hundred high-tech industry leaders (in robotics and artificial intelligence) in 2017 wrote in an open letter to the UN calling for preventing an arms race using lethal autonomous weapons.
For, he, like his cosignatories of the letter to the UN, feared, those autonomous machines run by AI, dubbed 'killer robots,' would start, what they called, a 'third revolution in warfare.'
Terming AI humanity's worst existential threat, this hi-tech entrepreneur launched a non-profit organisation, OpenAI, which would look for ways to serve humanity in a safer way, with the help of AI, of course.
Needless to say, the 'Optimus' he is trying to build is itself an autonomous AI-powered machine. However, it is going to be a safe, helpful humanoid, Mr. Musk claimed. But who knows where the fine line between a safe and an unsafe humanoid lies! For how often the road to hell is paved with good intentions!
That said, there is no way the forward march of technology can be stopped. The point is to control the research and development of potentially dangerous technologies. But who is there to take control?
Information and Computer Technology (ICT) including AI is already in the hands of big business. Now, it is up to the governments to save potentially perilous technologies including AI, nuclear and biotechnologies from falling into wrong hands.
However, knowingly or unknowingly, we are already using AI and the service it provides. For example, Online shopping, advertising, web searching, digital personal assistants such as smartphones, virtual assistants answering questions and providing recommendations and so on are all AI-based.
Commerce, industry, finance, farming, medical research, security systems, public administration, transport, you name it, AI's presence is there.
In fact, AI is now a fast growing field of technology and its application cuts across every conceivable field of human endeavour. So, it will be better to embrace, not fear it.