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Robotics Act. 22 Aug 2017

Robots in the spotlight of the big technology companies

Digital bbva robot

Artificial intelligence projects have moved $20 billion in the last five years. An example of this trend is Google, which has bought a dozen robotics companies in just three years.

Fad or serious commitment? Robotics is attractive to large companies and what appeared to be a whim of their CEOs is emerging as one of the sectors to track in the coming years.

2013 was the year that Google placed its focus – and money – on robotics with the acquisition of numerous companies. It finished the year by purchasing Boston Dynamics, one of the market leaders, which provides services to the Pentagon and has a star among its ranks: Cheetah robot, which is faster than Usain Bolt.

Google’s obsession with robots has not diminished in recent years. In 2014 it bought the British company specializing in artificial intelligence DeepMind Technologies for $400 million. In 2015 one of the latest operations of the Mountain View company in the field of industrial robotics was the agreement with the American pharmaceutical group Johnson & Johnson to manufacture surgical robots.

The advantages for patients of surgeries performed by robots controlled by doctors are high-precision and less-invasive operations. Human errors cause between 44,000 and 98,000 patient deaths annually in the United States, according to the MRI Technology School.

Although Google seems to be more directed toward industrial robotics, it doesn’t want to leave out the social aspect. At mid-year, it registered the  Methods and systems for robot personality development patent to customize the robots that may “be programmed to take on the personality of a person from the real world (such as user behavior, a deceased loved one or a celebrity) and take on the character traits of people emulated by a robot”.

That personality could be transferred from one robot to another, or shared among several through cloud-based computing: “This way, a user could travel to another city and download the personality of his or her own home robot into a robot based in the other location. Robotic personality would thus become something transportable and transferable”.

Projects related to artificial intelligence have accounted for almost $20 billion dollars (around 18 billion euros) since 2009 but some have come with much controversy. Several intellectuals and scientists warned against so-called “killer robots”, Stephen Hawking at the head, Bill Gates was very concerned about the “threat” of artificial intelligence.

Although some people are not as critical as informed in this article published in El País that includes the reflections of the researcher at the University of Toronto, Hector Levesque“Today’s computers are downright stupid. For example if you ask, “Joan thanked Susan for all the help she had given. Who gave the help, Joan or Susan?” Google can’t answer that question. That’s the ghost missing from the machine: common sense. Sadly, much of the research on artificial intelligence conducted these days is content with systems that only read massive amounts of data, without any sense. These are the systems that should scare us. Those that are autonomous but have no common sense.”

Facebook is confident in the common sense of robots and tests conducted by the laboratory developing new intelligence led by the French researcher LeCun. The US company hired the renowned scientist whose mission is “to produce softwarewith the language skills and common sense necessary to maintain a basic conversation.”

“Instead of having to communicate with machines by pressing buttons or entering carefully-selected search terms, we could say what we want as if we were talking to another person. Our relationship with the digital world will completely change through intelligent agents with which you can interact “, he predicts. He believes that deep learning can “produce software that understands our sentences and is able to respond with appropriate answers, clarifying questions, or making their own suggestions,” as noted in this report in Technology Review.

Both Facebook and Google seem to be clear that the future is in the hands of robots, provided they are always controlled by humans.

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