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Sunday 24 March 2019
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Staying relevant in the era of robots and machines

 
 
Though the idea of intelligent robots and machines was first conceived in fiction movies in the 1950s and 60s, with the portrayal of intelligent robots invading, enslaving human beings for them to rule the world.
 
Thanks to the advancement in technologies, intelligent machines have become a reality; today we are able to build robots with capabilities to learn how to drive, work and look after their environment with precision. In the future with support of machine learning, robots will be able to produce or make other robots. Hence humans need to rethink and reinvent themselves if they are to remain relevant in the near future.
 
This article highlights the role to be played by machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI) in shaping the future where humans are not the masters. Moreover, this article suggests what needs to be done to save humans from becoming irrelevant as AI increasingly become popular.
 
Machine learning and artificial intelligence has become two buzz words in computing over last few years. Though they do not imply the same thing, they are many times interchangeably used. AI can be best explained as the broader idea of creating smart machines that able to carry out tasks with precision. On the other hand, machine learning refers to the application of AI based on the idea that given data, machines such as robots should be able to learn by themselves without being programmed by anyone.
 
Unlike humans who find it difficult to learn new things especially as they grow older, through machine learning robots are able learn and adapt to new data without the need to reprogrammed.
Though good for productivity, the ability of machines to learn and do things without the interventions of humans may present new threats to humans, in the form of job loss and power balance shifts. Moreover, due to their ability to do multiple and complex computation at once, machines and robots will always have an upper hand over humans.
 
Even more so now when machines are increasingly becoming smarter and widely adopted, the threat of humans becoming useless and irrelevant is becoming more inevitable. Hence something needs to be done now to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
 
Halting the advances of AI and ML is not the answer to stopping the future dominance of machines, due to the importance role machine learning and AI is playing in business and society. AI has become an essential aspect in our lives, for example when searching for what we want online, Google uses AI to find what we are looking for. Uber, an online transportation network company uses machine learning to predict our travelling habits using this information to improve its maps and create algorithms for its autonomous (self-driving) cars.
 
Today a startup company called Thread is taking machine learning into the fashion industry with an application that provide ultra-personalized fashion service for their customers. In the banking sector, Royal bank of Scotland became the first bank in the world to adopt AI by introducing Luvo, a natural language processing AI to answer customer queries and perform simple banking transactions like the transfer of money from one account to another. When Luvo cannot help a client, only then is the query transferred to an employee.
 
To answer the question of what humans should do to make themselves relevant in the age of AI, Elon Musk the futuristic founder Tesla and Spacex stated that there’s a need for humans to merge with machines to become a sort of cyborg (a fiction comic book character with both organic and biomechatronic parts). By merging with machines, Musk claims that humans will have “some high bandwidth interface to the brain that will be something that helps achieve a symbiosis between human and machine intelligence and maybe solves the control problem and the usefulness problem”.
 
No doubt, with machine learning and artificial intelligence, robots might take our jobs, take over our world, machines might predict all our moves and might shift the power balance from humans to machines. Nevertheless, the advance of AI is necessary. Today, the world faces many challenges, from global warming, climate change, lack of collaboration to wars.
 
Humans have for many years failed to find sustainable solutions to these problems and perhaps because of our egos and selfish nature we will never solve them. However, robots and machines might help us figure how to end wars, poverty and finding ways for mankind to work together yet maintain our diversities.
 
Additionally, if we leverage on these smarter robots, perhaps they might help us become smarter, help us understand ourselves better and therefore help us live happy lives.
 
Although machine learning is still in its early stages, it’s proving to be very useful tool to advance mankind. Therefore, we shouldn’t be afraid of them but rather embrace them and allow machines to assist us fix our broken society and dare to shape the world of our dreams.
 
Lameck Mbangula Amugongo is country Ambassador of 1 Billion Africa in Namibia. He holds B.IT: Software Engineering, B.(Hons): Software Development (Cum Laude), MSc. Computer Science & PhD Candidate (Computer Science)



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