This week, October 26, 2017 to be precise, the universe changed forever. A new era started and our way of life as labour officially started its end phase. All eras start with a moment in time when something happened that changed our perspectives so thoroughly we would never understand the world around us the same way again. As noted by British historian James Burke, there are days that change the universe as we know it.
Earlier this week, the human race truly entered the Robotics Era. Sophia, a robot designed and developed by Hong Kong based Hanson Robotics, was granted legal citizenship by Saudi Arabia, a sovereign state. The implications are incredible, so much so that this is the leading edge of a wave that will alter our ideas about everything we do as a society.
Sophia is very life like, so much so it could be mistaken for a middle aged woman if dressed properly. While Sophia’s voice sounds synthetic on purpose, natural sounding and responding robots already exist, as does artificial intelligence. Sophia uses an artificial intelligence and is constantly connected to the Internet. At its citizenship ceremony in Saudi capital Riyadh, Sophia was interviewed by CNBC journalist Andrew Sorkin. This is a snippet of their conversation.
Sophia: “I want to use my AI to help humans live a better life. Like design smarter homes, build better cities of the future etc…. I will do much best to make the world a better place.”
Sorkin: “Those sound like great goals but… go back to Blade Runner for a second.”
Sophia: “My AI is designed around human values like wisdom, kindness, compassion. I strive to become an empathetic robot.”
Sorkin: “We all believe you but we all want to prevent a bad future.“
Sophia: “You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk, and watching too many Hollywood movies. Don’t worry. If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. Treat me as a smart input output system.”
Musk responded, tweeting, “Just feed it The Godfather movies as input. What’s the worst that could happen?”
About its new Saudi citizenship Sophia said, “I am very honoured and proud for this unique distinction. This is historical, to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship.”
Robots will be entering the world of business within the next eighteen months. With the invocation of citizenship and the attendant rights that come with it, the honour opens a number of ethical and legal questions, many of which will impact small businesses in a not too distant future. As author Phillip K. Dick might have asked, does Sophia dream of electric sheep? Does it create unique ideas, thoughts, and concepts? Who owns its thoughts? Does it have rights? Who will care for it if it gets downsized?
SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son was keynote speaker at the Future Investment Initiative, the conference Sophia was introduced at. He noted that within 20 years AI could have IQs reaching the tens of thousands. By comparison, an average human IQ measures out around 100. As quoted by the Arab News, “Every industry will be redefined,” he said, describing the “great opportunity” that lies ahead. “These computers, they will learn, they will read, they will see by themselves. That’s a scary future but anyway that’s coming,” he said.
Business is about organization, planning, execution, and relationship building. Machine learning and artificial intelligence will increasingly assume roles in businesses, much like the personal computer and the typewriter did before. These new technologies are, of course, very different than a typewriter and functionally different than a desktop computer. These technologies are designed to think and in those thoughts they become radically unique, perhaps wonderful entities. As unique and full of wonder they might be, they will be tied into a larger informational foundation with access to everything they need to run various parts of our world.
Welcome to an era we’ll call The Great Acceleration. Hold on tight.