Friend In The Machine

Working for an organization operating at the bleeding edge of machine learning, you might assume I’m fully on board with the idea of Artificial Intelligence (AI) at every level of human interaction.

Indeed, when I was asked to take part in Little Dragon Films’ documentary “Friend In The Machine”, I assumed I’d be expected to unreservedly sing the virtues of robot companionship in order to positively confirm the film’s big question: Can a machine be a substitute for a human companion?

I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find myself part of something far more considered. A film that celebrates what humankind is doing in the AI space yet isn’t afraid to ask what it means to be human in an age of nearly-human machines.

Companion or substitute?

For me, it all comes down to the word ‘substitute’. A lot of current research in this field – and a key focus of this documentary – is in creating an ‘intelligent’ robot companion that provides much-needed social engagement to those without constant human companionship. But at what point does a companion (i.e. something that augments human engagement) become a substitute (that replaces it altogether)?

One such companion the documentary mentions is Paro, a robotic (and innately cuddly) seal which its creators say has been found to have a profoundly positive psychological effect on patients. Under its furry white exterior, sensors detect touch, light, heat, sound and movement and use this information to react and engage in a multitude of ways.

If only due to form factor, Paro is very much a companion rather than a substitute for the care provided by a loved one or medical professional. Yet already we’re seeing AI capable of accurately diagnosing and informing us of illness – so it stands to reason that future iterations of Paro could contain sensors able to diagnose health issues, too.

And it’s at this point that I arrive at probably the biggest questions of all: How might your fluffy robo-companion advise you that according to its sensors and a bunch of machine learning data, you have cancer? Could Artificial Intelligence ever ‘Machine Learn’ a bedside manner?

Keeping it real

As I say in the documentary, there’s a lot to love about the idea of a doting AI keeping you both mentally and physically healthy, but we need to be careful not to delegate certain things to robots that we should always do ourselves, whether that’s the big stuff such as delicately communicating debilitating news or simply taking your mother shopping.

I am constantly amazed at the benefits to mankind we are able to achieve through a combination of Machine Learning (ML) and ever-increasing compute power. It’s all but inevitable that at some point in the future we will create Artificial Intelligence that is indistinguishable from a real human, whether it’s pitted against the Turing Test or simply asked to cope with the emotional nuances of consoling a lonely senior citizen.

But with something as important as our family’s mental and physical wellbeing, it’s vital we don’t jump the gun. Artificial Intelligence is, ultimately, neither artificial nor truly intelligent – and in this regard there is no substitute for true, human emotional intelligence.

Visit our Artificial Intelligence hub to watch the film and learn more about how Arm is enabling a revolution in how people interact with technology as well as the way technology interacts with the world.

Arm Artificial Intelligence Hub