The next milestone towards in the development of artificial intelligence looms close
Digital services underlie every aspect of our lives. From the news reports we listen to on the radio to phone calls, from our trains and connected cars to our offices and even our houses. Our world has become a hotbed of interconnected, intercommunicating devices in the developing Internet of Things.
Ubiquitous sensors are collecting a previously unimaginable amount of data that feeds mining and pattern recognition algorithms that power smart cities, telematics products and services in our vehicles, and vast range of other fundamental, albeit less visible services. And it’s only the beginning.
The continuous exponential increase in available information, along with the growing sophistication of computer chips and sensors is paving the road towards artificial intelligence through machine learning. In fact, experts posit that we are rapidly approaching a new milestone in our technological capability: the rise of sentient devices.
Sentient tools are devices that employ sensors to analyse the environment in which they operate, understand what they are experiencing through artificial intelligence platforms, perform meaningful tasks and communicate and collaborate efficiently with humans through audio, video, sensory and mechanical means.
Sentient tools may be either physical or virtual depending on whether they are designed to help humans with specific physical or mental tasks: finding a solution to a problem, conducting research or helping a factory worker move heavy items exactly as needed. They are tools that are meant to collaborate with humans in a smart manner. As such, they are “sentient,” but not “conscious” – a significant distinction.
“Cobots” or “collaborative robots” are a prime example of such a device. They are not conscious as such, but they have been programmed to understand humans and complete tasks such as helping elders as caretakers, helping surgeons as assistants or completing secretarial tasks.
They do not perform orders in a routine manner, but understand what is happening around them, respond to external stimuli and learn from experience. Cobots share a physical space with humans, rather than working independently.
Intelligent Assist Devices
The automotive and telematics industries are not only currently working on self-driving vehicles that require the very same capabilities to learn from experience and safely navigate our trafficked urban roads in a smart manner, but are also testing “Intelligent Assist Devices” that employ telematics services to power platforms that, like cobots, promise to make vehicles more intelligent, collaborative and interactive to human commands.
In short, a sentient device must understand a person as an individual, so that it can more effectively communicate and collaborate. The rise of this technology will have a profound impact on society. It will affect work and education in practically every industry.
Indeed, whereas previous technology replaced “menial” jobs in factories, sentient devices will affect the “middle skills” job market, taking over the work performed by clerks, accountants and research assistants. However, it will also continue to drive the need for an increasingly skilled labour force, promoting education and the knowledge economy.
Sentient devices are expected to become an integral part of our world in ten to fifteen years, more or less the same amount of time that has elapsed since the first smartphone was introduced, and they will radically transform the world as we know it. It will be a future world of smart cities, service robots and self-driving cars.
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