A Trip to Westworld May Be Closer Than You Think

Westworld’s Take On Artificial Intelligence Isn’t Far Off

HBO’s new hit, Westworld, exposes two truths:

  • The future of artificial intelligence (AI) could get a little creepy
  • Anthony Hopkins is just the best

Set in a futuristic lab complex, Westworld bends the mind with an alternative reality world filled with artificially intelligent robots–referred to as ‘hosts’ by park operators. The hosts create immersive storylines for customers all within a western-style setting.

The robots are incredibly life-like, making it impossible to distinguish the hosts from the real humans. They are capable of showing emotion, adept at conversation, and able to think according to how they’re programmed. They interact with guests to provide the ultimate virtual reality game.

The entire experience is controlled by mad scientists employed by a dark corporation. It’s supposed to be next-level entertainment…but could also foreshadow the future of AI. While Westworld is purely fictional (for now), some of the basic tenets of the show are happening today, with robots taking interviews on 60 Minutes. The foundation is being programmed, and the implications are numerous.

Robots in Real Life

Robotics offer many benefits. They can replace ordinary, mundane tasks at a rapid pace. They can save time. Consider cleaning-bots, electronic powered vacuums and mops that sense dirt and dust without the need for human oversight. Robots can also offer safety. Bomb security squads are able to send in camera equipped machines to diffuse dangerous material from a distance that prevents loss of life. Surgeons are now able to assist in life-saving operations with robotic medical equipment like Cyberknife. Intelligent machines can even entertain. Amazon’s Echo uses Alexa, a voice-operated bot that plays music, checks the weather, and assesses current traffic conditions. Our homes and cars are becoming automated. Could our social circles be next?

Future of Robots

We mainly think of robots in terms of hard, cold, metal. Wires and connectors. But that is changing. Researchers at EFPL’s Reconfigurable Robotics Lab are creating the next wave of technology, referred to as soft robots. Soft robots are made from low cost materials and are set to act like human muscles. The breakthrough has applications in the field of medical rehabilitation; helping patients move better. With this advancement, robots can begin to imitate humans on a whole new level. Creating robots that can move and think may soon lead to using cases in combat and law enforcement, a la RoboCop.

Back to the traditional sense, robotic machine learning is also revolutionizing the transportation industry. We can easily activate Siri to get us from point A to B. Automakers already have developed back-up cameras and assisted parallel parking, as well as intelligent braking in traffic. From Uber announcing an autonomous fleet to Chinese entrepreneurs creating passenger drones, the possibility of unaided transport is becoming a reality. Autonomous trains, planes, and cruise ships may not be too far out of sight. Your pilot of the future may look like Tom Hanks, but will have a sim-card brain.

The rise of robots and artificial intelligence does create thought-provoking conversation, including questions of morality. At a realistic level, machines must make decisions that impact human life–on a scale from what song to play next to what pedestrian to save in an imminent crash. While not the complex moral quagmire of Westworld, we as humans should evaluate a robotic-future and the impact it will have on our lives.

We’re all trying to make things easier and technology is playing a virtuoso role.

Kind of like Anthony Hopkins.