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Towards Humans 2.0 – II

Is the evolution of electronics and artificial intelligence changing the way we are “humans”? A series of conferences organised in Mogliano Veneto by the Galileo Galilei Institute.

I described our evolution as human species as a result of our ability to develop and use ever more effective (and sometimes) complex tools. Of course this goes both ways. One can rightly say that it is our evolution that has led to the capability of creating better tools. The minds of hunters and farmers devised better tools to use in the field, likewise evolved minds of scientists, researchers and engineers led to the taming of steam and electricity.

I am not claiming one interpretation over the other, just noticing that we can tag our increased capabilities as a species with the kind of tools that are -somehow- supporting those increase capabilities.

In the last years we have started to see a transformation in the “quality” of our tools. For as long as we can know, tools have been an extension of our body, from the club to the hoe, from the loom to the amazingly huge and complex steel mills. Robots have just been the more recent tools to extend our capabilities.

However, in the last few years robots are starting to become “autonomous”. This does not mean that they can perform their duty unsupervised. This has been true for quite some time. You program a robot to do a certain job, including very complex ones like flying a plane, and it will do that without any supervision.
With “autonomous” I mean that robots are starting, mind you -just starting-, to have a life of their own in which they take decisions that have not been programmed. This is the result of the “mind” we have provided them, a mind that can learn and their behaviour is based on what they have learnt.

Look at AlphaGo (a nice movie, released in January 2018, is available on Netflix with insight on its “mind“, watch the trailer clip I posted here): that computer played in a way that surprised its “designers” (no longer “programmers” since in a way AlphaGo is programmed to learn, not to operate).

The learning process is an unpredictable one, it may lead to unexpected capabilities, be it the learning of a kid or the one of a robot.

The robots have the advantage of learning fast, and they can learn using a replica of themselves as a sparring partner.  Imagine you were learning to play tennis by rushing back and forth in the two parts of a tennis court first hitting the ball (serve) and then responding to it … Impossible, obviously, but not for a robot! A robot can clone itself and learn by interacting with itself. Actually it can create many clones of itself and explore new avenues of both computation and interaction.

These new breed of robots are entities that will be flanking ourselves, no longer extensions of our body but “living” thinks that co-exist with us, learning from experience and we will become part of their experience.

Can this co-existence bring to a new super-organism? A few thoughts in the next post.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.