“Westworld” sparks important questions about AI technology
HBO’s hit new television series “Westworld” has thrust AI technology into modern pop culture. For those unaware, the show hinges upon the interactions between human “guests” and sophisticated AI “hosts” in a Wild West-themed amusement park. Though the show has found new and creative ways to inject this relationship with drama, it also begs a few important questions now that the first season has wrapped up.
How close is modern technology to the AI featured in “Westworld?”
The AI in “Westworld” is quite impressive. It breathes life into otherwise lifeless machines in a way that makes it genuinely difficult to distinguish between the AI hosts and the human guests. These robots are created with distinct roles to play and purged of any memories at the end of each narrative. Controlled by tablets and voice actions, they present a convincingly human nature despite their nature. Ultimately, that’s what modern AI technology is striving for. The world wants personal assistants that entertain, guide and work in the most intelligent, human way possible.
So, how close has modern technology come? Well, there’s a long road ahead, but incredible strides have been made. For example, think back on the mobile landscape even 10 years ago. The mobile devices back then allowed people to do many things, such as manage calendars, read email and even browse simple websites.
As useful as that was, the process of interacting with them was very manual. Fast-forward to today, and Siri is in your pocket guiding you home, Alexa is in your living room controlling your entertainment systems and ordering your groceries, and IBM Chef Watson is in your kitchen helping you decide what you’ll make for dinner. Though AI technology may not yet be walking beside you, it’s certainly being used in increasingly accessible ways.
How long before AI “hosts” are walking among us?
The current state of AI technology is clearly moving in the right direction, but how long will it take to create something similar to what’s seen in “Westworld?”
Beyond the aesthetics of actual robots and human-like bodies, the most difficult piece of the puzzle to achieve is the hosts’ improvisation — that is, AI that can act outside of scripted or triggered routines. In “Westworld,” scientists have programmed the hosts to display improvisation in order to provide a more realistic and immersive experience for the guests.
To this end, the closest technology available is possibly deep learning. Fortune recently published a piece on the ways deep learning is leveraging big data to introduce some artificial recognition in modern AI applications. In doing so, AI using this technique can better understand the delicate nuances of human thought and interaction.
After this deep-learning technology matures, the next phase is to bring it out of the data center and into the mobile realm. Once the smartphones in your pockets can dynamically learn about their surroundings, you can begin to approach some semblance of “Westworld’s” sophisticated AI technology. Whether this is five years down the road or 25 is difficult to say, but great progress is being made and the potential applications are numerous.
As humanity continues down this path to AI technology that can learn, adapt and imitate the human world, there’s a lot to gain. From automated systems that can deliver your morning coffee by drone to cars that chauffeur you around town, life as you know it is slated to get increasingly automated. As has already been seen with the likes of Siri and Alexa, the world is ready to embrace AI more than ever before. That being said, time will ultimately tell which changes this mobile engagement will bring.