In the 2013 film, actor Joaquin Phoenix portrays a man who falls in love with his artificially intelligent computer operating system. In the 2013 film, actor Joaquin Phoenix portrays a man who falls in love with his artificially intelligent computer operating system. In the 2013 film, actor Joaquin Phoenix portrays a man who falls in love with the female voice of his artificially intelligent computer operating system. (Photo: Warner Bros.)

Fear not: Robots aren't taking over the world (yet)

But artificial intelligence experts say robots will transform industries like transportation and healthcare.

There are robots that move like animals and robots that offer emotional support. And then, of course, there are robots from the world of pop culture.

But contrary to what we see in the movies, artificial intelligence (known colloquially as AI) will not turn against mankind. At least not in the next decade. So we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief.

This information comes courtesy of a major new report from Stanford University that considers the various societal implications of AI. The report, coauthored by 20 leaders in the field, instead offers a more optimistic view of how robots will impact various areas of our lives – from transportation and education to entertainment and health care.

Just this week, for example, researchers in Houston announced that they have developed artificial intelligence software that can expedite breast cancer risk prediction.

"If society approaches AI with a more open mind, the technologies emerging from the field could profoundly transform society for the better in the coming decades," the scientists from the Stanford study wrote. The report was written by more than a dozen of the world's leading experts on artificial intelligence, including researchers from MIT, Microsoft and Columbia University, among other institutions of higher learning.

Oren Etzioni, whom Business Insider has called "the most successful entrepreneur you've never heard of," was one of the co-authors of the new study. He grew up in Israel and was the first student to major in Computer Science at Harvard University three decades ago. He's now the CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, an independent research institute in Seattle. “I really see this as a coming-of-age moment for the field,” said Etzioni. “The extreme positive hype is wrong, and the fear-mongering is not based on any data.”

Etzioni and his co-authors agree that there are plenty of opportunities for humans and robots to cooperate together. One area is in the field of transportation, where autonomous cars are showing they can be safer than when humans are at the wheel. "As cars become better drivers than people, city dwellers will own fewer cars, live further from work, and spend time differently, leading to an entirely new urban organization," the study reported.

In health care, another field the scientists explored, there has been an immense leap forward in collecting useful data from personal monitoring devices and mobile apps, from electronic health records in clinical settings to surgical robots designed to assist with medical procedures. "AI-based applications could improve health outcomes and the quality of life for millions of people in the coming years," they wrote.

Dr. Sarit Kraus of Bar-Ilan University in Israel and fellow Israeli Yoav Shoham from Stanford University, who both worked on the new report, are at the forefront of merging game theory with artificial intelligence. Along with their collaborators, they have taught robots decision-making skills. Their work has created the foundation for many new technologies, including a new service offered by Facebook called chatbots. Using this new tool, people can chat with businesses (like an airline or a store) to get customer service help and the person responding is actually a highly trained robot.

“Until now most of what is known about AI comes from science fiction books and movies,” said Peter Stone, a computer scientist at the University of Texas at Austin and chair of the 17-member panel of international experts. “This study provides a realistic foundation to discuss how AI technologies are likely to affect society.”

The Stanford project, called the One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence, will report its findings every five years.


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