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KITT: “Michael, that’s not asking a lot, that’s asking a miracle”

Posted by Carolyn Devadawson on 3rd October 2016

Most people who grew up in the 80s or even the 90s will remember Knight Rider, a popular TV series where a lone crime fighter battled against the forces of evil with the help of KITT, an artificially intelligent, self-aware and nearly indestructible Trans Am with more wit than a human sidekick would ever have.

In an era where almost every household with school kids had a Commodore 64 or a ZX Spectrum, where the CPUs were built into the keyboard, Knight Rider entertained us with the wonders of voice recognition, artificial intelligence, robotics, wearables and M2M. All these technologies were fantasied in this series over 30 years ago – the question is why has it taken us so long to get to where we are now?

Simple answer? Nobody really knows. But we have seen a substantial leap in artificial intelligence and robotics over the last couple of years. More recently, self-driving cars like Uber’s fleet of autonomous cars in downtown Pittsburgh, where pre-selected customers who order an Uber may be greeted by a self-driving Ford Fusion instead of the standard human driver. Even Uber rival NuTonomy hopes to have 100 driverless taxis in Singapore by 2018, taking us closer to making the KITT of the 80s today’s reality.

Recent reviews of the recently launched Apple Watch 2 show that we are still quite far from Michael speaking into his wristwatch asking KITT to search a database, scan a person, drive to a location or even stop a crime in progress – which was always executed to perfection.

I personally have suffered frustrating conversations with delivery drivers trying to direct them to my home address in spite of the fact that they all possess sat nav systems. From a 1980s Hollywood series point of view, technology appeared to be independent, reliable and effective.

And then there’s security. In the Knight Rider world, nobody tried to steal Michael’s personality to become an “insider threat” and use KITT to rob a bank, steal weaponry or even hack into secure databases for personal gain. Risks, especially with regards to technology, have evolved and, dare I say, adapted to today’s trends such as the cloud, where masses of sensitive information is stored, managed and shared. Today’s risks are centred around data – the person or organisation with the most valuable data has the highest risk.

So that makes me think about today’s artificial intelligence – the data, the security and communication between hyperconnected devices and the trust in allowing machines to make the right decisions for us.

Yes, initially I would imagine that communication is more binary with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses. But, as technology advances, and as we can see in this interview with the head of Toyota Research Institute, it is not unrealistic to imagine how a simple command like “KITT, meet me on the other side of the building” will then set off a series of complex algorithms resulting in KITT deducing the best route and, naturally, whether or not to turbo-boost his way over to Michael without injuring any civilians in the process.

Photo credit.

Carolyn Devadawson