What does it mean for a machine to “understand”?

Robotics now does a better job of making computer vision better than any analog camera, but the same camera helps it to understand objects instead of just photos. That has a clear benefit for dangerous situations such as fire and emergency vehicles. At least that’s what makes the kind of technology developed at Georgia Tech a bit more menacing in real life. It makes it easier to put together a robot that can aid you in getting to your lost pet or trapped space alien.

Robotics researcher José Gonzalez, the Ray Kurzweil of robots, goes further and says in Wired, “All robots should be able to learn.”

While it is true that software that makes it easier to understand a world more than it was before improves cognitive skills in humans and computers, the danger comes if the same software is not often used or well understood by machine-learning companies that are trying to make their software. And if software used in developing new robots — such as those being developed by Georgia Tech — also is poorly understood, there is no guarantee the robots will be able to do the things necessary for a person to save their loved ones.

Also, that could mean AI robots that are killing humans and are doing things in terms of AI that humans can only dream of such as understanding pictures or automating far more important aspects of life like shopping and flight navigation.

“When all you have to do is say a few words, and let them make a split second judgment that’s like an abstract 3D map of that world in such a wonderful way that only they have to understand,” Georgia Tech’s Jesse Roberts, who is also a member of the team developing automated robo-rescue robots, said in the piece. “It might be helpful for watching a movie, but it’s never going to be helpful for moving a rifle or making a decision about what to do. That’s the utility we’re dealing with now.”

Also, traditional robot saves face to ensure they won’t actually cause injury or death to humans. Granted, there have been instances of that happening and yet they know what they are doing and can accomplish their intentions, but getting a person to get involved in something like that is far more complicated than simply saying, “hey, they have a rifle.”

As for people using these kinds of robots to help them out in emergencies, it’s unclear what “effective” detection and rescue robots will do. Google’s Street View has helped researchers develop technology capable of monitoring terrain and estimating the hazard level of areas. Only time will tell if these applications will revolutionize society or just hasten its demise.

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