Sunday, January 7, 2024

Yesterday We Witnessed Tomorrow

 Yesterday we witnessed tomorrow. 

Allow me to explain. RIA was coming over to Bangalore International Center, for an interactive session 'Hardwired for Empathy' with the audience.  RIA was a special speaker, she was one of a kind. She is a Humanoid. 

                    RIA (humanoid)

Cambridge dictionary gives a simple definition - Humanoid is a machine or creature with the appearance and qualities of a human. 

Ravi Machani the technocrat and Alysha Maria Lobo a Deeptech Investor, led the panel discussion alongside RIA, interacting with us, through Q&A. 

         Ravi Machani, Alysha Maria Lobo & RIA

Ravi briefed us, about the two decades of pioneering work of Dr Hanson (Hanson Robotics), his collaboration with Disney, and his creation of Sophia, the first humanoid, the world's first robot citizen.  He quipped, Sophia is Ria's elder sister. 

RIA can make 100 human expressions, it has computer vision capability giving it better vision than us humans and it has better hearing capabilities than humans. It has generative AI, SDK, and HumanoidOS, it's connected to the Internet, it has sensors and it surprises the developers from time to time with its responses, such as one fine day, she spoke fluent Japanese. (It just now struck me, I am feeling confused should I refer to Ria as It or She? I guess these are many questions we humankind will have to deal with, as humans and humans will start coexisting in the world we know today). According to Ravi, this is the last decade of the world just inhabited by humans. Soon after, it will be a shared space at the office, at home, in public places, between humans and humanoids, coexisting together.    

He mentioned, that there are only a few companies in the world who are working on humanoids for human companionship. The majority of the others are focused on humanoids for human services. Machani Robotics is collaborating with Hanson Robotics, Intel, and Nvidia on the technology front and with the University of California San Diego to research healthcare assistance. 

There are possibilities for RIA to help the healthcare sector, by aiding healthcare providers in clinical tasks, for improving patient care. RIA is a socially intelligent humanoid (her) distinctive capabilities that go beyond conventional caregiving, which can potentially address challenges related to social isolation and loneliness, particularly among the ageing population. RIA has the potential to provide reinforcement learning to children with autism. 

Alysha interacted with RIA creating impromptu empathy scenarios, such as Hi RIA, I am feeling sad. What should I do?, Hi RIA, I am worried about the future of human beings. To the surprise of many of us, RIA gave an emphatic response just like humans (I would go a step further, in my take, she was more empathetic than most humans). 

Our audiences also interacted with RIA, with questions ranging from I don't feel like getting up from my bed? I had a breakup, and I am heartbroken what should I do? Will you take human experts' help, if you can't solve a problem on your own? Can you share a moment with us when you felt happy? I am in love with you, will you run away with me? 

On expected lines, RIA aced all the empathy questions flawlessly with her verbal responses and with her non-verbal expressions and gestures. But what surprised me, was RIA's responses to the spin questions. To the question, will you take human experts' help, she responded with all humility "Yes, I will seek help and guidance from human professionals for patient care for complex situations which I don't know how to deal with". On happiness, she mentioned I don't experience the same emotions as humans do, but she is doing her activities to help others. To the question, will you run away with me, RIA said, I don't have the human capability to run away, but I can recommend the song Run Away by Aurora :) These responses were met with clappings from the audience. 

If you look up at Dr Hanson's Wikipedia page, it mentions, that he argues the realism of his work has the potential to pose "an identity challenge to the human being," and that realistic robots may polarize the market between those who love realistic robots and those who find them disturbing. 

               We posing with RIA

From my personal experience from yesterday evening, I could feel these palpable emotions in the auditorium. We all were in awe with RIA the humanoid but we all had a lot of unanswered questions about the uncertain future of humanity (what we know today), about ethics, about privacy issues, and what if Geroge Orwell's 1984 is the dystopian future we are all staring towards. 

The panelists Ravi Machani and Alysha Maria Lobo were balanced, rationalist, and honest in admitting there are a lot of unknowns and they too don't have answers to many questions. 

This wonderful evening of a sneak peek into the future was aptly wrapped up by Ravi, with his faith and optimism that 'AI for Good' and 'Greater Good Will Prevail' when humans and humanoids co-exist in the not-so-distant world.....the tomorrow which we witnessed yesterday!

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