Popular Science just ran an article about the next generation of virtual assistants, such as Siri and Cortana. The idea is that, going forward, virtual assistants might become more useful if they exchange portability for power. Instead of living in our smart phones and tablets, they could live in desktop computers. What does this mean for the development of AI going forward? What does this mean to me, someone who can’t stop crying about robot friends?
There are basically three categories of what I broadly think of as “robots and cousins.” This ranges from Roomba robotic vacuums to Siri to projects like Bina48. The categories are for what they specialize in.
What They Can Do
Robots can vacuum, explore other planets, and carry huge loads. These ones often have simple native intelligences or may simply be remotely controlled. Big Dog acts as a pack animal, for example, with military applications. Their appearances are focused on function, rather than aesthetics. A boost in intelligence for these kids is not an especially well-placed power up.
How They Look
There are some goddamn eerie robotic heads out there. And yes, they tend just to be heads. Bust-style androids are being made who can mimic human emotion with startlingly expressive faces. (Nonhuman mimics do exist, like the companion fur seal pup, but they are far less elaborate.) Though they sometimes fall into the uncanny valley, these bots are the most like what we think of as sci-fi robots: looking and acting like humans with something very different under their skin.
How Well They Think
Ah, now here’s the interesting bit, the “and cousins” part of my statement. Most of the more advanced artificial intelligences aren’t robots at all. They don’t have mobile bodies intended to carry out expression or labor. They’re just an attempt to duplicate our clever brain bits. From chat bots who try their hand at talk therapy to Siri rebuffing her users’ unwanted advances, artificial intelligences are a thing. They’re just not all that bright yet.
So what if we took them out of our phones and gave them more robust processing abilities? Going even farther, what if we gave them dedicated systems, taking them off our computers entirely? What if, say, we start stringing those three categories together? Huge strides are being made in each one, but specialization has meant that none of them really embody that ideal science fictional droid. Maybe that ideal is getting closer.
One last idea, before I stop crying about this for a while: our phones, tablets, and desktops are all networking with each other more and more. Bluetooth connections link more and more of our technology. We have smart phones, smart cars, and smart houses.