Learning as a Human

I started discussing the whole idea of robot perception from a primate level in Seeing as a Human. In that post I discussed the need for a robot not to just see objects, but to be able to understand that the object is something unique. The ability to comprehend what is being seen is something that robots must do in order to interact with society at large in a manner that humans will understand and appreciate. Before the concepts espoused in works of science fiction such as I, Robot can be realized, robots must first be able to interact with objects in a manner that programming simply can’t anticipate. That’s why the technology being explored by deep learning is so incredibly important to the advancement of robotics.

Two recent articles point to the fact that deep learning techniques are already starting to have an effect on robotic technology. The first is about the latest Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) challenge. A robot must be able to drive a vehicle, exit the vehicle, and then perform certain tasks. No, this isn’t science fiction, it’s actually a real world exercise. This challenge is significantly different from self-driving cars. In fact, people are actually riding in self-driving cars now and I see a future where all cars will become self-driving. However, asking a robot to drive a car, exit it, and then do something useful is a significantly more difficult test of robotic technology. To make such a test successful, the robot must be able to learn to at least some extent, from each trial. Deep learning provides the means for the robot to learn.

The second article seems mundane by comparison until you consider just what it is that the robot is trying to do, cook a meal that it hasn’t been trained to cook. In this case, the robot watches a YouTube video to learn how to cook the meal just as a human would. To perform this task requires that the robot be able to learn the task by watching the video—something that most people see as something only a human can do. The programming behind this feat breaks cooking down into tasks that the robot can perform. Each of these tasks is equivalent to a skill that a human would possess. Unlike humans, a robot can’t learn new skills yet, but it can reorganize the skills it does possess in an order that makes completing the recipe possible. So, if a recipe calls for coddling an egg and the robot doesn’t know how to perform this task, it’s unlikely that the robot will actually be able to use that recipe. A human, on the other hand, could learn to coddle an egg and then complete the recipe. So, we’re not talking anything near human level intelligence yet.

The potential for robots to free humans from mundane tasks is immense. However, the potential for robots to make life harder for humans is equally great (read Robot Induced Slavery). We’re at a point where some decisions about how technology will affect our lives must be made. Unfortunately, no one seems interested in making such decisions outright and the legal system is definitely behind the times. This means that each person must choose the ways in which technology affects his or her life quite carefully. What is your take on robotic technology? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.