Musings with the public about their future with smart machines

By David Bisset, Robotics Consultant

So at 7:45 this morning 20th October we were, with some trepidation, all wondering about the questions at the public ThinkIn… The previous three were great fun and informative, but we knew the “usual suspects”, this morning was going to be different!

The slides rolled, the music played and we waited…

James Harding with a quote from Bill Joy “Be careful what you wish for” framed the discussion leading it neatly away from any tendency to put its toe in the science fiction pond or address the “will a robot steal my job” question.

We discussed what we mean by Digital Twin, Smart Machine and AI, Data and Robotics. But that’s just a blur of definitions as the chat quickly pointed out. Stuff we the techies probably care too much about.

James wanted to get to the human level to where this makes a difference to people.

Suddenly a real human use for Smart Kettles, Elaine needs to know if her elderly mum has switched the kettle on this morning. Paul explains the medical need to create digital twins of a individual to assess medication and treatment. David Lane explaining that Jarvis from Iron Man is the right way to think about all this.

Smart Machines are already with us, cars, aeroplanes, vacuum cleaners we don’t call them robots but they all use that technology. To make them work requires many skills; industrial design, AI people, sensor experts and interaction designer… and many more.

At human level we need to be able to trust, to know it’s built right and safe.

Slowly the ideas emerge and crystalise Digital Twins are more than models becuase they connect to the thing they model, adapt to it as it changes, and importantly, they can be connected together to explore “What if…”.

But how do we make it all work? Who is responsible?

The chat is filling up with multiple crossing conversations. Someone points out that digital twins are already out there looking after big jet engines spotting when they need cleaning, or monitoring critical health parameters.

The issue of “Tech Wash” is raised, is “smart machine” just some clever rebranding? The needless selling of technology as a solution to every senior manager’s need to outshine their peers? We need to stop and think about the consequences of forcing through technology driven organisational change without evidence and stop needless disruption. We need to know these things will work!

The question of “human interaction” between elderly people and robot pets, perhaps this is “play” not “interaction”…. How do we align smart machine decision making to human values? Who makes sure of this…. The danger is that no one does…. and values erode…

Paul explains how living labs will help, how we can create public good, David Lane on the need for open access for a national approach to avoid the issues we see with American big tech, the importance of good regulation…

The hour is too quickly up. James acknowledges we only scratched the surface! Was that success or failure, was the topic too big?

Our audience seems to have enjoyed it though!

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