Science fiction is one of the world’s most popular entertainment genres. But through the exponential advancement of technology, ideas that were once merely science fiction fantasies have become real projects in development today. From breakthroughs in space exploration to recent advancements in virtual reality, the things everyone once thought were impossible are being brought to life. However, is artificial intelligence advancing as quickly as other areas of technological development? Have science fiction AI fantasies already become reality?
This article will focus on four common artificial intelligence tropes and concepts in science fiction. Using real-world examples, we will determine whether they are still just works of fiction or have indeed been brought to fruition.
1. Machines that Feel Emotion — A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Directed by Steven Spielberg, A.I. Artificial Intelligence (known simply as A.I.) is perhaps one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. The film is about a humanoid child robot created with the ability to display and—depending on your interpretation of the story—feel love and other emotions. A.I. was a commentary on the rights of intelligent machines and imagined what it would be like if a machine could not only make calculations but have feelings and motivations.
Can we make a machine that dreams? Can we make a robot feel and replicate human emotion? These questions are in some ways just as philosophical as they are technical. Now, in 2019, there is a multitude of research being done in the emotional intelligence field of machine learning. However, does a robot exist today that can feel emotion?
Sci-Fi or Reality…
Machines that Feel Emotion: Sci-Fi
Unfortunately (or fortunately), we do not yet have machines that can love or feel love. While we’ve succeeded in making robots that look like humans, it’s exponentially more difficult to make a machine that can distinguish or express human emotion.
Although we may be far off from creating a machine that can feel emotions the way humans do, emotional intelligence is a field of machine learning that is being researched today and has countless applications. One interesting emotional intelligence project was AutoEmotive by a research team at the MIT Media Lab. The project sought to improve car safety by analyzing a driver’s emotions and taking over control of the vehicle in periods of high stress or anger.
Furthermore, using sentiment analysis, we can build machine learning programs that understand the intent and emotion of written text like customer service complaints. An example of these programs being used now are chatbots which can direct the customer to the correct support line or escalate the customer to a human operator when sensing anger in their voice or text inquiry.
2. Androids — The Terminator (1984)
The film series that solidified Arnold Schwarzenegger’s international fame, The Terminator is about a combat android sent from the future to protect Sarah Connor. The android explains that Sarah’s future son is destined to lead humanity in the coming war between humans and Skynet, a self-aware AI neural network determined to exterminate the human race.
Often confused with cyborgs, androids are simply robots made to resemble humans. Whereas, cyborgs (cybernetic organisms) consist of both organic living tissue and mechanical parts. Cyborgs are often depicted as human beings with mechanical parts integrated into their bodies, usually for the purpose of human enhancement.
While a humanoid robot isn’t a mind-blowing idea in this day and age, it’s important to remember that 1984 was a time before everyone had cell phones and a time where almost no one had home computers. Fully-fledged humanoid robots that looked and spoke like humans were still a far-off fantasy.
Sci-Fi or Reality…
Androids exist today. Robots made to look like and speak like humans are being developed and have already been developed by various companies. One particular android whose videos went viral on social media is Sophia, developed by Hanson Robotics. Apart from viral videos on social media, Sophia made news headlines across the globe when it was granted Saudi Arabian citizenship and became the first robot to ever be granted citizenship of a country.
3. Autonomous Vehicles — I, Robot (2004)
Very loosely based on the classic Asimov novel of the same name, the film I, Robot is about a detective who hunts down a rogue robot suspected of killing its creator. One of the most popular scenes from the film is the scene where the detective, played by Will Smith, decides to turn off the autopilot feature of his car. He switches to manual drive while barreling down the highway at 180 miles per hour. To the average person in 2004, concepts like self-driving cars were still purely science fiction which is why the scene was so memorable. Now, 15 years later, are we any closer than we were back then?
Sci-Fi or Reality…
Autonomous Vehicles: Reality
While not yet to the extent of the futuristic cars portrayed in I, Robot, autonomous vehicles are currently being developed and tested. Some partially autonomous models, like the Tesla Model S, are already on the market today. In a 2017 Ted Talk, Sebastian Thrun, the co-founder of Udacity, showed off a successful test drive of Udacity’s autonomous vehicle which drove from Mountain View, CA to San Francisco, CA 100% autonomously. The trip took place on a rainy day, with regular traffic, bicyclists, and pedestrians, on a route which went through 133 traffic lights. The car traveled a total distance of around 33 miles, with a traveling time of 1.5 hours.
Autonomous vehicles like Udacity’s wouldn’t be possible without all the developments in machine learning and computer vision.
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4. Advanced Virtual Assistants: JARVIS — Iron Man (2008)
Aside from a beachside mansion, numerous dream cars, a billion-dollar net worth, and the Iron Man mech suit, Tony Stark had one more thing that had moviegoers jealous: his advanced virtual assistant, JARVIS. A highly advanced AI system, JARVIS stands for Just A Rather Very Intelligent System, which is both a mouthful and an understatement. In Iron Man, not only does JARVIS have the ability to understand all of Stark’s commands—spoken often with sarcasm and in natural speed—he also aided in Stark’s research, running tests when Stark was preoccupied.
Now, 11 years after the first Iron Man film was released, virtual assistants are everywhere and are being developed by every key player in the industry. With Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple’s Siri leading the consumer market, almost everyone has access to a virtual assistant via their mobile phones, tablets, or smart home devices. But are they as advanced as JARVIS?
Sci-Fi or Reality…
Advanced Virtual Assistants: Sci-Fi
Virtual assistants are just one application of the work being done in the Natural Language Processing field of machine learning and AI. However, it’s difficult enough to get virtual assistants to understand native-speed speech, let alone perform research and conduct experiments.
In 2016, Mark Zuckerberg built his own virtual home assistant also named Jarvis. However, in his research notes, Zuckerberg explains that “No AI system is good enough to understand conversational speech just yet.” Anyone who has tried devices like the Amazon Echo for an extensive period of time will know that virtual assistants like Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri all have their limitations. Yes, Alexa can tell you the weather in your area, play songs from the Amazon Prime music library, and even turn on connected devices. However, Alexa, and other virtual assistants like it, are miles away from performing advanced research, let alone replicating human cognition.
It may be some time before we see an AI model as advanced as Tony Stark’s JARVIS or machines that can replicate human emotion like David in A.I. Artificial Intelligence. However, the machine learning industry is growing rapidly and the various fields of artificial intelligence being researched and developed today are bringing us closer and closer to the world of tomorrow.
If you’re a developer or researcher helping bring these various AI concepts to life, Lionbridge AI has a crowd of over 500,000 multilingual experts that can provide data annotation in over 300 different languages. Lionbridge provides a wide array of data annotation and evaluation services for machine learning including computer vision, text annotation, search evaluation and more.
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