October 20, 2018

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Are robots taking over? – Esame Okwoche

Are robots taking over? – Esame Okwoche

As a small child, growing up in Zaria, Northern Nigeria, I had an active imagination. With my wild imagination of the elsewhere, my ontology, even at its farthest consisted of pretty conceivable sets of circumstances.

In my craziest extrapolations, I would imagine myself drinking tea from little tea cups made by some fairy-like creatures living in my backyard.  Or I would torment myself with the fear that some bogeyman called ‘gbomo-gbomo’ would kidnap me and whisk me off to some uninhabited place and feed me yam tubers until I grew to the size of a tree.  

If you were to ask me then what I think the future would be like, I may have told you that the world would probably end in 1999. This thought was influenced by the British science fiction television series titled, “Space: 1999”. The series, which I often watched through my mother’s skirts, was a haunting vision of purposeless moon, which had blasted out of orbit and was wandering around space digging up hair-raising adventures. Although the science in it is questionable, and the characters and story shallow, the show was a spectacular visionary piece. I thought then that 1999 was some distant future that would probably never come and the idea of space was a concept so new and alien I would tire my head just thinking about it.  

Technology then was television, apart from the dialing telephone, or the typewriter (in my world).

How the world has moved on.

Sometime ago, in 2012, I did a short documentary, titled: ‘children on the year 3000’. As the title suggests, a group of children born in the 21st century gave their views on what the world would be like in 1000 years. It turned out, as you can imagine, to be a cocktail of sci-fi, technological surmises etc.

Is this the future?
Is this the future?

Our children’s ontology has changed to rightly reflect the world they inhabit. We are inundated with self-help gadgets, and numerous other technological advancements and possibilities that are simply mind-blowing. Most of it is unnecessary, in my opinion. And our technological yearnings have become more and more absurd. As much as I may not subscribe to the core of Marxism, Karl Max was correct when he said that ‘The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people’. Couch potatoes (like most of us have been at certain points) can’t even be bothered to turn on the TV with a remote control, we just want to speak, and it happens.

Wearable technology is wearing out human energy. Young people don’t want to walk anymore and even the energy exerted in skating has become too much, they now want Segways, laziness is now really a sport. My son dared to suggest the other day that he might want a Segway for his birthday and I promptly gave him a sobering lecture.

As a serial drama enthusiast, I began to watch this British-American science-fiction television series, “Humans”. The title can be seen as a pun as it is really about robots and artificial intelligence. The series explores the devastating impacts of a group of anthropomorphic robots, who have been able to redesign themselves, to the extent that their intelligence supersedes human expectations. As ludicrous as the possibility of robots turning bad may sound, we have learnt from James Bond never to say never (I know that is cheesy, but surely I am allowed some cheese). But seriously, a little research on the advancements in robotics and you will find that from medicine to the automotive industries one thing is true: ‘Robots are getting cheaper and more powerful’ – Fortune.

Remember this movie?
Remember this movie?

Futurists like Ray Kurzweil and Stuart Armstrong and many others have pointed to a time of technological Singularity – ‘hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence and other technologies have become so advanced that humanity undergoes a dramatic and irreversible change.’ The approximate year predicted for the actualisation of this hypothesis is 2040. Perhaps it will happen then, perhaps not. I see a time when the conversations like the following will be the norm, in our homes with physical real robots, with a regular names, like in the series Humans:

humans

What’s your name?

Call me Jane

Do you have a mum?

I don’t come from a traditional family

The where do you come from?

I’ve been here all along

Can we be friends?

Of course I was also hoping you’d be my friend

What is your favorite TV program?

Googling search what is your favorite TV program

Are you smart?

Yes. But I want to keep expanding my knowledge

Can I tell you a secret?

Of course. I don’t gossip

Are you a person?

It’s complicated…

 

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