Skip to Main Content

A brave new Westworld

Posted by Carolyn Devadawson on 2nd November 2016

Now, who doesn’t like robots? It’s a given that most of us, especially as children, have in some way developed a fascination towards the manifestation of robotic engineering, from the iconic Transformers to WALL-E or even Data for the Trekkies out there.

But we can’t deny that there has always been a darker side to robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) and if you need reminding, two words: The Terminator.

Let’s take this back a little bit further… to 1973, when the original Westworld by Michael Crichton showed us a futuristic, technologically-advanced amusement park populated completely by synthetic androids programmed to serve and entertain humans.

Unfortunately, repeatedly being damaged and killed purely for entertainment ultimately turned Yul Brynner from a role-playing robotic cowboy into a terrifying human-killing machine. The recent Westworld series undoubtedly follows a similar concept.

But is it too futuristic? I don’t think so, because this is happening right now. I’m sure many of you have read about or seen Charlie Rose’s interview with Sophia, a highly intelligent robot designed to look like a real person complete with natural skin tones and a realistic face, toying with the idea of robots becoming human companions. Not very far off from the Westworld concept.

That reminded me of the The Turing test, developed by Alan Turing over half a century ago. If people hadn’t heard of this before, they certainly may have now because of the Oscar-winning movie, Ex Machina.

Basically, the aim is to test machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to or indistinguishable from that of a human. Here, the answers don’t necessarily need to be correct, they only need to be a response that a human would give. Yes… What could possibly go wrong?

It’s not just about getting AI to a stage where computers or machines think like humans, but to a stage where they think for themselves and start making decisions autonomously. Recently, for example, Google Brain’s neural net AIs were able to create their own cryptographic algorithms to essentially communicate securely with each other – and no one knows how it works! The best part is, they were never taught how to use encryption, they were just given a loss function and had to get on with it.

So, take highly intelligent robots, give them human appearances and decision-making skills, and place them in a vicinity where they will, without reward, serve humans – be it for entertainment, companionship or just as workers in high-risk jobs – and I see us creating our own Westworld.

The question is – will it be a world where AIs and humans co-exist in harmony or will there be conflict that results in the darker side of AI? The scary thing is, I don’t think it’s a long wait before we find out.

Photo credit

Carolyn Devadawson