When robots rule the world

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: Japanese actress Haruka Ikuta with a Hello!Dino robot in Chiba, suburban Tokyo, on April 25. Apple co-founder Wozniak prophesised that robots would keep humans as pets in the future, but the writer thinks that humans would be high maintenance and difficult to trust if left alone.


    Jul 07, 2015

    When robots rule the world

    IN THE future, robots powered by artificial intelligence (AI) will rule the world and humans will be kept as pets. And no, I have not ingested a mind-altering substance. I am just relaying the sentiments of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

    I am a bit puzzled by Mr Wozniak's statement, for several reasons. You see, some years back, he thought such a scenario would be "scary and very bad for people".

    He prophesised that robots would get rid of us slow humans, but he has obviously had a huge change of heart since then.

    But why would a robot want to have a pet? And if it did want one, why would it choose a human? We would just be way too high maintenance, what with all our demands for Big Macs, superior spring mattresses, luxury holidays, home theatre systems and breast implants, not to mention the latest Apple products.

    Robots aside, this whole pet-keeping thing is a bit odd, if you really think about it. No other species on this planet keeps a creature from another species as a pet. When was the last time you saw a giraffe taking a tortoise for a walk? Or a gorilla keeping a white mouse for companionship?

    Many people keep dogs because they claim canines have the capacity to give them unconditional love. I cannot imagine a robot keeping a human for that reason, simply because a machine wouldn't know what to do with all that emotion.

    If a robot were to come home from work at the end of a busy day, it would not give a toss if Scarlett Johansson were waiting for it, panting heavily and behaving in a frisky manner. She might as well look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame and have a grouchy disposition for all the difference it would make. Nothing, and I mean nothing, would get those AI cogs whirring around with happiness.

    Other people will tell you that they keep a pet for companionship, but robots do not need company; they are not programmed that way.

    A robot would not sit on a sofa with a cat on its lap, stroking kitty's fur while it catches up on the latest episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. You also would not find Roboman phoning a helpline in the middle of the night because he is feeling lonely and desperately needs to talk to someone. Robots have no concept of loneliness.

    They also have no need for a sofa, kitchen or even a house, in the traditional sense. Instead of a bed, they would probably have a temperature-controlled docking station to recharge their batteries and update their software.

    Not only would humans be high maintenance, but it might also be difficult to trust them if they had to be left alone. Most pets are opportunists. If an escape route is presented to them, say a door carelessly left open, they will probably venture out and explore their surroundings. But human pets would plot and scheme, and look for ways to break out.

    Mr Wozniak seems to think that robots would treat humans like gods, but surely that would happen only if they were programmed to do so, or if the survival of AI machines were to somehow depend on humans. For example, if they were to discover that they could function properly only when lubricated with a few drops of sweat from a happy person.

    Besides, if robots were programmed to treat us like gods, they would not be ruling the world, we would.

    I suspect Mr Wozniak has lost the plot somehow. Possibly, all that time spent with an iPhone connected to his ear did something to him, because he has already started planning for the future. The evidence is in the following statement: "I got this idea (about robots taking over) a few years ago, and so I started feeding my dog fillet steak and chicken every night because 'do unto others'."

    Now this really is a bit rich, coming from a man whose company treats many of its Asian workers with scant regard. If Mr Wozniak were a "do unto others" person, he would surely make sure that the workers in, for example, the factories that manufacture Apple products in China were treated more humanely.

    Many of these overworked and underpaid people have probably never seen fillet steak before, never mind eaten it for dinner. At least, if AI were in control of the world, we humans would at last have a chance of being treated equally.

    Equally bad or equally good? Now that would be the question.