Imagine a world where we live alongside robots with personality, emotions and thinking abilities. It happens in the "Star Wars" movies and it could be the reality on our little planet, in the not so distant future
Almost 40 years ago, the "Star Wars" film series first appeared on the cinema screens, inviting us all to join the journey to that "galaxy far, far away". It is one of the most successful and profitable film series in history, with a huge cultural impact. For example, in 2001 in the British population census, 390,000 people stated that their religion was "Jedi" - the fourth largest religion mentioned in the survey, and the number of its "believers" is greater than believers of established religions such as Buddhism and Judaism. Each of the six films in the series (the seventh is being released these very days) describes a war between "good guys" and "bad guys" in which humans, different species of aliens and also... robots participate.
The Star Wars robots, especially C-3PO and R2-D2 have become cultural heroes. They communicate, they have a personality, they make decisions and even feel and express their emotions. In the new movie, "The Force Awakens", a new robot joins the team. BB-8 is a cute and round robot, and from the first trailers of the film the enthusiasm around her was great. She almost steals the spotlight from the human stars. The Disney company, which bought the rights to the "Star Wars" films and produced the new film, does not of course reveal how 8-BB was built, but we know that it is not a "robot doll" operated by a human actor, nor is it computer animation. For the purpose of the film, a real robot was built, a fact that of course contributed to the enthusiasm for the character.
Robotics and artificial intelligence are two very hot terms. There is no point in asking "will robots change our lives" because it has already happened. They are already a big part of our lives today - they work in factories, clean our house and even talk to us from the mobile phone (try asking "are you a robot?" SIRI and you will get a surprising answer). Robots are here, and they're probably here to stay. The question is - what will happen in the future and how will it affect us, humans?
Be careful not to offend your robot
In the curiosity lab of Dr. Goren Gordon at Tel Aviv University, are developing the new generation of robots: curious robots that learn on their own how to behave - behavior that is based on understanding and mathematical modeling of the human brain. We asked Dr. Gordon, when will we have robots with personality, who know how to understand complex language as well as body language, who communicate, think and even feel?
"To understand what needs to happen for robots to be like C-3PO, R2-D2 And also the new addition BB-8 will be possible in our world, and not only in a galaxy far, far away, we need to separate two components: the physical and the cognitive. physicallyBB-8 This is a great example that the future is already here: the robot is real, moves and really does everything it shows in the movie. in competition Darpa Robotics Challenge held this year, we saw robots doing lots of human actions, like driving a car, opening doors or using tools. Although there were robots that managed to perform all the tasks, the competition also showed how far we are from human robots with full human physical capabilities."
The cognitive component is the interesting point. Will robots be able to communicate, understand and even feel? "The field of communication is the most advanced," explains Dr. Gordon. "There are huge developments in the field, such as speech recognition and natural language analysis, which is already reaching very high levels. There are examples of contemporary robots that use this, such as a wonderful development called FOR A, which is out of nowhere a "personal assistant" that knows how to understand and respond in everyday language, identify its operators and the relationship between them and learn while using it how to respond to their needs. But we must remember that in human communication there are many non-verbal components, such as the change of tone and body posture. There are also great developments there, but the road to robots that know how to understand and use real human behavior is still long."
How would we feel if robots had feelings?
And what about feelings? The reason millions of people connect with the Star Wars robots is that they are just as happy, excited or offended as the human characters. According to Dr. Gordon, "There is already the development of robots that show emotions through different faces, and even learn which faces receive reactions from people who interact with them. For example, we built robot whose goal was to create as long an interaction as possible with people, with the help of facial expressions that imitated human expressions. The robot discovered on its own, without us programming it that way, that when it cries or makes a sad face, people stay next to it the longest. In fact, this is also how a baby learns - when he cries, adults pick him up and take care of him, and he is rewarded for this form of communication. But will robots that learn to express emotions really feel anything? Here the opinions are divided as to whether it matters, that is, if we think they feel and even develop empathy towards them, does it matter if they really feel?"
After we were convinced that robots driving the car and ordering delivery for us from our favorite restaurant are only a matter of time, it was time for the next question. There are already people who do all these actions, and they also do them quite well. Why do the good researchers and scientists invest so much effort to produce machines that will be like us? Is it just a desire to live the fantasy we grew up on in science fiction movies, like Star Wars?
Dr. Carmel Weissman, digital culture researcher from the multidisciplinary program in the humanities, believes that the high expectations that our society places on future robots to be good workers, caregivers and companions, even more so than the human origin, probably stem from our complex feelings towards the other human beings that surround us. "Machines are predictable, controllable, and can be neutralized if they challenge us. That's something hard to say about people. Technology fosters in us the obsession with control and gives us many control options. Relationships with robots can offer us to experience the feelings that accompany a relationship with someone else, but without the responsibility and vulnerability that a relationship with another person demands from us."
For Dr. Weissman, the interactions of people with robots, even in the relatively undeveloped versions that exist today, are an opportunity to understand us a little more and how we operate. "What is interesting is that precisely jobs that we treat as simple and automatic, such as folding laundry or lifting a glass, turned out to be something that is very difficult to teach a robot to do. These are actions that require the simultaneous activation of many senses, and we didn't know how complex they were until we tried to teach robots to do them. Surprisingly, precisely in areas where we thought that the basis of their success was human interaction, such as care and mental support, robots have surprising successes - simply by the fact that the robot performs the gestures of a listening person."
"I look at the field of robotics as a reflection of the state of human society. The developments in this field indicate our needs, weaknesses and strengths. We are very far from creating an independent robotic consciousness simply because no one has any idea what consciousness is. In the meantime, the robots will entertain us on the Hollywood screen."
I am a robot
Prof. Mati Mintz from the School of Psychological Sciences and the Sagol School of Neuroscience, encourages us to challenge our imaginations even more. Instead of humans living alongside robots, he presents a future reality where we will live inside robots, when the boundaries between us and them will be blurred. "In the project I took part in together with a group of researchers from ETH-Zurich, we created an interactive structure that people enter. The structure is the robot, which communicates, observes and responds to the people who inhabit it. We presented the project, a neighborhood ADA (named after Ada Lovelace, a mathematician and writer from the 19th century known as the first programmer) at the fair EXPO The Swiss in 2002. (Watch the video).
ADA She was able to communicate, observe and create different interactions with the people who entered her. She also knew how to treat visitors differently who expressed a greater willingness to communicate with her and behaved positively towards her. They were invited to play various games and were also given a personal greeting when they left the building. What was interesting to discover was that visitors very naturally interacted with ADA in a humane and simple way. It was not too strange for them to "talk" to the room they are in. The reason is probably that this is simply the only method of communication that we know."
"Beyond that, I predict that in the future there will not be two distinct populations - human and robotic, living side by side, but one population in which each individual will have a different composition of human and synthetic organs. Already today, many people walk among us with pacemakers, pacemakers implanted in the brain (for Parkinson's patients) and sensory implants that help the blind, for example. In the more distant future, implants in our brains that will increase the volume of our memory or even our creativity are not inconceivable."
The future that our researchers described here is still far away. We have many technological and moral questions to resolve before it becomes a reality. What is certain is that dealing with robots and their interaction with us makes us learn new things about ourselves.
An achievement for a project in the field of brain research led by Prof. Mati Mintz from Tel Aviv University
The project aims to examine the possibility of restoring a specific function of the brain by replacing a region of the brain with a synthetic chip
An article describing a pioneering research project in the field of brain research, headed by Prof. Mati Mintz from the School of Psychological Sciences and the Sagol School of Neuroscience, recently won second place in the competition for the best projects in the field of brain-machine interface (BCI) held at the last conference of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) in Chicago.
The project aims to examine the possibility of restoring a specific function of the brain by replacing an area of the brain with a synthetic chip, and was summarized in an article published in the journal Scientific Reports. The article was written by Prof. Mintz, his students - Dr. Roni Hugari, Dr. Aryeh Taub and Dr. Ari Magal, and the Italian researchers Prof. Paolo Del Giudissa and Dr. Simeon Bamford. The project itself lasted over 12 years and was partnered by, among others, professors Yossi Shaham and Hagit Messer Yaron and Dr. Mira Marcus-Klish.
"The goal of the project was to test the feasibility of replacing a small area of the brain with a synthetic chip," explains Prof. Mintz. "If there is a blockage in a blood vessel in the body, the problem can be overcome with a bypass, but in the brain there is a flow, not of blood, but of information. We wanted to check whether it is possible to build an electronic bypass that will transmit the information if one of the areas in the brain is damaged."
"What we did was to copy a model of a nerve cell into an electronic chip," continues Prof. Mintz. "We connected the chip to the inputs and outputs of the damaged system and checked whether it is possible to restore the function that the area of the brain is responsible for. Specifically, we examined the "cerebellum" - an area related to motor learning. It is about learning small movements of protection such as blinking the eye before something enters it or sending the hands forward just before falling. The challenge was both to absorb the information upon entering the affected area and to flow it out upon exiting the area, when on the way there is also a need to perform a calculation that takes the incoming information and translates it into outgoing information."
"Following decades of research, researchers cracked a significant part of the anatomy and physiology of the region so that we could actually copy it," adds Prof. Mintz. "The research ended about a year ago with great success. We built a bypass and demonstrated that it works" at this stage, he emphasizes, the application is not yet clinical and the main importance of the project is that it made it possible to find out what things now need to be developed - which electrodes can be used, what protection must be provided to the electrodes in order to ensure long-term use, and so on.
And when that happens, what will be the clinical application? "I estimate that the first application will be the restoration or replacement of small brain areas that have a very essential function, for example swallowing," says Prof. Mintz, "when in the more distant future they will begin to replace more extensive brain areas."
And what is your feeling with the successful completion of the project and the publication of the article? "There is no feeling of sitting on the chair and marveling," notes Prof. Mintz. "Research is a daily job that yields a lot of pleasure and a lot of understanding, and now I'm already looking ahead to the next project."