Freelance Writer and Editor
Robotics at Work – Partwork series for De Agostini Ltd
Over the past two decades, advances in surgery have taken a leap into the realms of science fiction, with the development of robotic surgery.
At present, robots can only assist, rather than replace humans, but even now, they are capable of a large range of functions, from cutting and stitching, to the most delicate brain operations.
There are many advantages. Robotic surgery is carried out with the aid of an endoscope – a small fiber optic instrument that enables the surgeons to view the site.
A.L.I.C.E.: AI CHATBOT
There are many functions to the application of Artificial Intelligence, but one that is becoming increasingly popular – especially in the field of leisure – is the chatbot.
These are programs that began as attempts to create robots with responses realistic enough to fool humans into believing that they were also human – following the principles of the Turing test.
At this stage, chatbots converse using text (see Into the Future), and having a dialogue with one is straightforward to set up – you simply log on to a site, follow the onscreen instructions to get started, and a text message appears from the bot, introducing itself.
Before we can even begin to discuss Artificial Intelligence, it is essential to define what we mean by the word ‘intelligence’ itself.Loosely, in humans and animals, intelligence can be said to be the ability to absorb information, to understand its meaning, and make decisions based upon that.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the creation of machines intended to mimic the functions of the human brain – using computers to do the arithmetic. There are two fundamental approaches to AI, known as ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’.
When the Czechoslovakian playwright Karel Capek first coined the word ‘robot’ in 1920, in his play, Rossum's Universal Robots, he took it from the Czech word ‘robota’, meaning slave workers.In the story, Capek's robots rise up against their creators and try to destroy the human race.
Capek, who later admitted to a horror that such beings might be created, might have been cheered to know that they would one day be used for such innocent entertainment as the annual RoboCup competition – held every year in a different country, with the aim of advancing the capabilites of artificial intelligence.
The shop floor of a car factory these days resembles a giant ant colony, with different types of robots bustling about, carrying out specific tasks.
In the past, these jobs were done by people, but they are repetitive and arduous, and the invention of robots came as an ideal solution. Not only do they have superhuman strength, robots are also able to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without a break – and without making mistakes.
A factory employs a number of types of robots, such as driverless vehicles – whose job is to fetch and carry parts from one process to another – and laser sensors, usually fitted to robotic arms, that inspect the work.
Computer sound recognition has two distinct branches: voice recognition and speech.
Voice recognition is a branch of biometrics, the measuring of human characteristics to confirm an individual’s identity. Computers with voice recognition capabilities can listen to a person’s ‘voiceprint’ and conclude whether or not they are who they say they are. Speech recognition is the far more complex science of getting a computer to understand what a person is saying.
We usually take our ability to talk and understand speech for granted, but it’s really a very complex process – so complex, in fact, that scientists still don’t know exactly how we do it. Teaching machines to do something we don’t fully understand ourselves is therefore understandably tricky.