BENGALURU: On July 2015, a journalist named Sarah O’ Connor tweeted about a robot killing a worker at a car plant in Germany. Immediately, the internet went into a frenzy. Many pointed out how this incident matched the plot of the dystopian sci-fi movie, Terminator where an artificial intelligence (AI) program ultimately takes over humans. The protagonist in the movie also incidentally had the same name as the journalist.
While most of the chatter was of a humorous nature by movie buffs, there were those who seemed alarmed at what they believed was the fulfilment of a prophecy of sorts.
This incident in a way highlights the sense of unease people all over the world feel when they talk about things like robots, machines, AI and Singularity. This despite the fact that humans can no longer do without machines.
A community of techies, entrepreneurs, hackers in the city called Applied Singularity want to promote a more harmonious view of AI, tap into its commercial potential and create awareness on it. They were earlier a community of around 10,000 IoT (internet of things) enthusiasts, one the largest in the world, but but have recently extended their ambit to AI as well.
Some claim that AI is the last invention of humans leading to technology singularity, a state where AI and machines would become so advanced that it would learn from its own experiences without the need for humans, thus making them redundant. The feeling has been fuelled and compounded by movies, television series and sci-fi books. Already people point out the loss of jobs to automation.
“Yes, we will lose jobs as a result of technology. However, new jobs will also be created. Look at the Industrial Revolution, it was a period of transition. It is a time of change now as well. We are trying to bring together AI and IoT and create awareness about the potential of these new technologies instead of raising an alarm. It is a long term vision. We are trying to make an attempt to demystify things,” says Nihal Kashinath, founder of Applied Singularity.
The first part of the plan is to build an ecosystem and work on community projects related to AI and IoT. Then comes the commercial projects - solving needs and problems of companies using AI whether it be a startup or an MNC. “AI is a fairly misunderstood field. It can be quite complex. So we will start by building a network of expertise. We will, for example, work with Google or Microsoft to organise workshops related to AI tech, conferences on AI with experts,” he says. Nihal further says that just like IoT around four years ago, there are not many resources and expertise in the field of AI as of now. “This expertise is what this community wants to build,” he adds.
As the director at Creative Technology, Metalworks by Maxus, Harish Shankaran’s job involves trying to find the next big tech trend and innovation and consult companies on the same. “We are at the tipping point of a number of technologies. Computing has become very powerful, the cost of technology is very low. An AI tool like Siri pulls data from the internet but cannot infer. However we have something like IBM Watson that to a certain extent infers. Technological progression will therefore go on. We actually do not know what to expect at the end of it all,” he adds.
If you compare the entire evolutionary trajectory of humans to a day, then all the technological developments have taken place in the 23th hour. “This was very cleverly shown in the website called Wait But Why. All this progress - planes, computers - has taken place in one blink. It is happening in every field – be it genetics, computers, etc. What will happen in the next evolutionary blink take place?” he adds.
Speaking about the IT and Startup boom in Bengaluru, he highlighted a number of factors that led the city being the most conducive of places for such a development. “Lower rental cost, easily available human resource, easy camaraderie among the startup and industry network, very well connected cross functional ecosystems has made Bengaluru what it is,” he says. Similarly a network of about 10,000 IoT and AI enthusiasts in a “small city” like Bengaluru has the potential to develop into an entire industry, he adds.
AI Dominance Inevitable
Pavan Kumar, co-founder, WorkBench Projects, a makerpace says that the realm of singularity and AI is “magical”, a place where sci-fi and reality collapse. “It is something that is inevitable. One day humans and machines will definitely merge. It is infact already happening. Look at prosthetic parts that humans are imbibing. Machines will ultimately overtake humans. If that happens it will only be the fulfillment of an evolutionary step. Something more powerful will obviously always overtake the weaker entity. However to think about these things now is a no brainier,” he adds.
Groups like the Applied Singularity are just trying to make sure that whatever is done, will be done in a sensible and logical way. “The internet has gone through a similar chain of evolution. When the time comes, there will be a need for things like security protocols, and even negotiations between humans and machines to ensure that interests of both are met,” he adds.