No more fear, robots are here

Morgan Mawn, News Contributor

From ‘Terminator’ to ‘Westworld,’ artificial intelligence has developed a negative reputation amongst the American public. AI and robotics expert, assistant professor at Oregon State University Heather Knight, believes that a large contributor to this reputation may be the media people are exposed to daily. Whether shown as advanced robots dead-set on ending the human race or as a genius computer programs capable of answering any question, the depiction of AI is often skewed. 

However, a symposium called The Promise and Peril of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics will be hosted at the LaSells Stewart Center on Oct. 23, aims to inform the public about what AI truly is and what it means for the future.

According to a survey of 4,000 American adults done by Aaron Smith, the Principal Research Manager at Microsoft, it was found that 72 percent of participants were worried about a future in which AI robots were capable of performing the same jobs as humans.

Knight, an assistant professor of Robotics at OSU and one of Forbes’ ‘30 under 30’ in Science in 2011, suggested that many people might have fears about AI due to the heavy religious background of western society. 

“This is a western conceptualization that AI technology will go bad, and I think it’s coming from this fear that humans shouldn’t do God-like things,” Dr. Knight explained. 

She goes further to explain that a general lack of understanding of what AI is, and designed to do, also heavily contributes to the public’s suspicions of a future with AI robots.

One of the organizers of the upcoming symposium, Kagan Tumer, professor of robotics at OSU, would agree with Knight. When it comes to AI, Tumer believes that the general public could use a better understanding of the emerging technology. 

“We see more AI systems in everyday use, we see more robots in homes, industry, commerce. So it’s really critical for the general public to understand what these systems intend to do, what they do, and how they do it,” Tumer said.

Knight said AI is in our lives without us even recognizing its presence. She described its role in common tasks such as filtering spam or other online content, aiding in internet searches and even putting a filter over a Snapchat selfie.

“I want to stay relevant with my field,” said Kennedy Vandel, a computer science student who plans on going to the symposium. “Listening to experts in the field speak about current AI topics and issues helps me prepare for the work I’ll do after college.”

To get past misconceptions, Tumer suggested getting involved in the AI and robotics community on campus, as Vandel has. He also suggested contacting the robotics professors at OSU, participating in the weekly robotics and AI seminars held by OSU graduate students or attending the AI symposium.

The daylong symposium will feature many experts in the AI and Robotics fields weighing in on many topics in panels. Tumer and Thomas Dietterich, professor emeritus in computer science, will open the event with a lecture on robotics, AI and why they matter. One of the multiple panels will feature Knight joined by Julie Adams, professor of robotics at OSU, Naomi Fitter, assistant professor in engineering, and Kipp Shearman, associate professor of physics of oceans and atmospheres, to participate in a panel focused on the relationships between humans and future robots. The keynote of the symposium will be presented by Jacob Ward, former editor-in-chief of Poplar Magazine and technology correspondent for CNN.

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