Jaipur: "In 50 years, we'll probably have a robot conducting this session," said author Anupama Raju in her opening comments on Monday at the session "The Future is Now" in the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), giving voice to an increasingly popular concern: will robots take over the world, our jobs and life as we know it?
A panel of eminent technologists Meredith Broussard and Toby Walsh was in conversation with Raju on the concluding day of the Festival.
"Scientists work within the envelope of the dreams that writers tell us," said Walsh, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) professor, stating that the world is now waking up to the ideas that have been explored by science fictions writers such as Isaac Asimov for over 50 years.
Data journalism professor Broussard said that Hollywood has "coloured" our perception of AI with movies such as "The Terminator", which portray robots as "evil machines that take over humanity".
She called the fictional narratives "interesting but far from reality", stating that there is "very little to fear" about AI.
Walsh argued that the real concern with AI is actually its "incompetence: We are giving decision making ability to machines that are not capable of making choices that are fair and meet the values of the society we'd like".
Walsh, who has written "2062: The World that AI Made", however, batted for the greater rationality of machines over humans.
"Humans are terribly irrational," she said.
Broussard argued that computers, limited by their ability to merely executing what they are programmed to do, would "discriminate by default: The world is racist and sexist and has all kinds of social and economic inequality".
Agreeing that AI doesn't have an opinion and simply reflects the values of the people who build it, Walsh said that using computers to make a fairer world would certainly require immense prudence and hard-work.
"It's the same as how chemistry makes the world a better place if we think carefully about not over-fertilising our soil or using nuclear bombs."
The panel also explored the impact of AI through the example of the popular debate on the use of driverless cars.
Walsh said that driverless cars would help save millions of lives, be economically beneficial by reducing transportation costs, prevent truck attacks by terrorists, and free people to do more productive tasks than driving.
Broussard, author of "Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World", was admittedly "sceptical".
Narrating an incident where she almost got killed by a driverless car, she explained, among other issues, how such cars' "image-recognition algorithms could be easily defeated", thereby resulting in accidents.