Robots--even ones more intelligent than M.I.T.'s Kismet--are coming, the inevitable result of accelerating technological revolutions. The exponential growth of computing, communications, brain scanning and brain "reverse engineering," combined with rapid miniaturization, will bring machines that can equal or exceed human intelligence within three decades.
Is this good news? Or is this a threat to humanity's perch of evolutionary superiority? Alarm at the specter of ceding control over the creative process to machines has catapulted the debate beyond the scientific community and into the public forum. Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, has written about a wide range of dangers that could arise when we no longer have our metaphorical hands "on the plug."
Before we indulge these philosophical concerns, it's worth exploring just how intelligent and inventive machines are evolving. A powerful paradigm for emulating the creative process in a computer is to copy the ways of nature. One particularly compelling "biologically inspired" approach is actually to simulate the process of evolution inside the computer.
Brandeis University professors Jordan Pollack and Hod Lipson recently used "genetic" algorithms to design simple robots, which were then assembled by other robots. General Electric also uses genetic algorithms, in the design of jet engines, and its simulation of evolution produces designs superior to those created by unaided human designers. Microsoft has reportedly evolved some of the software it uses to balance system resources rather than have human programmers explicitly write these codes.
Another approach is to create "neural nets"--simulated versions of neurons and their massive interconnections that, while highly simplified, are able to solve real-world design problems and come up with unexpected though still appropriate solutions. These and related methods are also used in computer programs that "automatically" create art, music and poetry. The results of emulating nature in this way can be surprisingly effective, often solving difficult engineering and other design problems. However, as a human inventor who routinely uses these techniques, I can report that I continue to feel that I am still in charge of the process; they feel like just another set of yet more powerful tools.
A TIME LINE
So when will this feeling of apparent control change? When will we regard machine intelligence as the true originator of something creative?