Lo and Behold

This article was published also on LinkedIn.

Netflix’s movie recommendations has never impressed me. I have found the recommendations are either unrelated or predictable. When I have finished watching a low-rated movie, it would be nice if Netflix recommends a better-rated ones in the same genre rather than dump more low-rated ones on me. I wonder if my outdated LED TV is the reason.

The other day Netflix suggested me a movie — Lo and Behold saying “because you watched ….”. Actually, it is a documentary and not a regular movie per se. Here is the synopsis of the documentary as published on Netflix:

Filmmaker Werner Herzog presents a history of the internet, starting with its birth in 1969, and ponders the joys and sorrows of its social influence.

You can read a bit more on the title in the appendix section below.

It was a very interesting documentary. It was exhilarating to listen to some of the founding members of the internet. Leonard Kleinrock and Bob Kahn. Elon Musk had very insightful perspectives about the future. There were several other anecdotes.

One of them got me worried. This anecdote opens the scene with a young student/researcher holding a cube-shaped toy. He explains that the wheels bear a special design to enable free movement in any direction. The cube-shaped toy, the student/researcher says, is a robot, our rival kin, or soon to be. He further explains how the robot can kick a ball forwards and also upwards.

Demonstration begins. We see few of these robots skating the floor hitting a ball. If you haven’t yet realized, they are playing soccer. One of these robots is the goal keeper defending the post. It was hard to distinguish the teams but it was clear that the robots were passing the ball as in a soccer game. As they were passing the ball and moving around, one of the robots hit goal. What would be an exhilarating moment in a real soccer game, here in the robot land, time froze. The robots stood still for a few moments before running after the ball again. Perhaps, they did not how to react. Should they be happy? Why should they be, they would think. The robots aren’t acting any different from what they were programmed to do. The scene concludes.

In a few seconds, the student/researcher is back again on the camera. Let me call the student/researcher Sam. Oh, I am not being discreet. I can’t remember the name at the time of this writing, and did not bother to rewind to get the name. Sam will suffice.

Sam talks about a RoboCup competition where robots play the soccer game. He explains with great pride that they have programmed the robots to learn and excel in the game. The robots are not instructed or controlled by any personnel. They play the game on their own. They can talk to servers on the internet to be able to decide their next move or the next kick.

What was devastating to hear was Sam’s answer to Herzog’s question, “Will the robots be able to beat the real soccer team with Messi or Ronaldo?”. Sam glees, “That is what we are working towards. By 2050, we want to ready a team of robots so that they can defeat a FIFA team with Messi or Ronaldo.” Sam is hopeful that the robots will get smarter and intelligent over time. He is confident that they will be able to defeat Messi or Ronaldo and the team.

My heart stopped. Beat Messi? Who on the earth would want something like that?

The pace of technological advancements are going to equip the robots in all manners of the game. No doubt about that. The robots will be talking to servers, an entity external to the game, to decide the next best move in the game. Needless to say, they will always be, at least, a few steps ahead of Messi. No game, we know of, permits players talking to someone off the field. In any case, I am convinced that the RoboCup team should have no difficulty beating Messi and his team.

What a robot can’t do is what Messi did. Accept responsibility. After the Copa America game, Messi decided to retire from international soccer. He retired because he grieved missing the penalty shot against Chile that cost his team the game. Perhaps, in robot land, they might call it dumb. But in human land, that is respect, humility, responsibility.

Messi announced his retirement even at a time when it is not his fault. Any sport is meant for health, fitness, entertainment, and enthrall the audience. Soccer is no different. Messi is not programmed to deliver goals. That’s why we sympathize with him. What remains in our memory, at least for most of us, is he tried.

The next goal is a lot like future. The moment we manipulate we have lost the true purpose, the fun and life of it.

Vivian Richards is a cheerful sportive cricketer. I have heard that Richards asked his audience for the direction of the next sixer. You can expect a robot to hit one boundary after another, far and high. It will never equal Richards moving out of the wicket hitting a sixer behind the wicket. Oh! What a thrill to watch Richards play his game.

We are preparing robots in every way possible as if to relieve us of the burden of life. But we are also preparing for other bigger things from driving cars to flying to mars. Something our past generations never even dreamt of. Our current hurdle with robots is the lack of a definitive way to teach or make the robots learn the rules of a system. Autonomous cars are not ready yet but they are being tested on the same roads we walk. What other better place can a robot learn the rules.

Rules apart, can a robot learn values? Values are far different from rules. Sometimes, we lie for the sake of good. Have we thought of imparting values to the robots? Will be able to?

We are the intelligent beings around; hope nobody is listening. By know, we should realize that a robot is not like a child we give birth to. Isn’t that what we experience when a robots start working to our needs? I don’t say “when a robot comes to life”. It is not life.

A robot may have access to all the information ever produced in the world. It could even develop intelligence to surpass mankind. It may win the game. But will it be able to emote and empathize? Will it be able to deliver justice? Will it ever know what patience is?

Compared to humans, a dog, cat or an elephant is, much less developed, intellectually, if that is our measure. Yet we bond with them. Haven’t you seen a dog wag a tail at you? It is happy to see you. The interesting part is we understand that the dog is happy to see you even though it can’t talk.

I am not saying we should abandon our pursuit with robots and AI. We should definitely build robots, advanced and intelligent. But we should give them tasks and goals that ease our lives, not intervene. Robots can lift and roll boulders. They can operate delicate human tissues with precision. They can perform repairs in case of a nuclear leak, close enough to the reactor. They can go alone to Mars and find water. We know what they are good at - specialized tasks.

On first thought, they threaten our existence, our purpose on this planet and beyond. But if we do it right, we don’t have to enslave them. Neither do we have to be too. There may come a time when robots walk, talk and live amongst us. We should make sure now that they are not interfering with our lives.

In the closing moments of the anecdote, Sam holds one of the robots, Robot 8, in his hand and says it is his favorite player. Much like Messi or Ronaldo. While saying so, he shows his attachment towards Robot 8 in a way one would hug a person. Herzog asks, “Do you love it?”, as if confirming what he sees. We hear an unflinching, “Yes, we do”.

Beat Messi? Let us find something worthwhile to do.