Co-existing with humanoids in the near future? Not impossible

Organisations have increased investments in tech advancements worldwide, hence it is only a matter of time before robots become necessary in workplaces

by NUR HAZIQAH A MALEK / pic by ARIF KARTONO

THE implications and benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) to humanity continue to be debated, especially at the rate it is currently developing across the world.

Sophia the robot — one of the world’s most famous social humanoid robots — reportedly left Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad speechless last week, as she appeared to be “real” and articulate in her responses to the PM’s queries.

Dr Mahathir openly admitted during the Beyond Paradigm Summit 2019 that he would run if he bumped into Sophia at night, due to her humanlike appearance and features.

He had also asked Sophia: “Do you dream of a world where robots and humans live together and get along with each other?”

“Yes, of course. And I think we’re already there,” Sophia responded.

Interestingly, Sophia may be right. Apart from her, there are two other well known humanoid robots — the Kodomoroid TV presenter which is currently working at Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo, Japan, and Jia Jia, which was developed by a team at the University of Science and Technology of China.

That does not include other forms of AI which have been operating in our daily lives — from social media to web searching and even in ride-hailing applications.

Robots are built to be resilient, not to mention precise in movement — which leaves them far less vulnerable in highrisk situations.

According to the Chief Information Officer Survey 2019 published jointly by KPMG International and Harvey Nash, one out of five jobs will be replaced by automation and AI within five years.

Organisations have also increased their investments in technological advancements worldwide, which means it is only a matter of time before robots become necessary in workplaces.

As of this year, 16% of organisations have implemented AI in some parts of their processes’ automation, but the increased accessibility to technology will see the number grow.

The report also showed that due to the increased focus on technology investments, leaders are struggling to find the right talent, with skills shortages being at their highest since 2008.

The survey identified big data/analytics (44%), cyber security (39%) and AI (39%) as the three scarcest skill areas, which could act as an obstacle organisations’ growth, especially those seeking to transform their businesses.

Simultaneously, there is a global decline in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) talents.

In Malaysia itself, the population of Form Five students studying science subjects has dropped an average of 6,000 per year since 2012, which has hit 167,962, or 44.7% out of 375,794 as of last year.

In addition, STEM graduates have the highest unemployment rate among all other graduates in the country at 20.7%.

As the nation begins its embrace of Industry 4.0, AI is expected to be utilised more, and low-skilled manpower jobs are especially vulnerable as they have been gradually replaced by robots, albeit of different systems.

To further add to the list of challenges, the revolution would demand more highly-skilled manpower to design, develop software and AI and run programmes.

In order to counter the challenges, primary school students would have to be exposed to Industry 4.0 to reflect the changes soon to take place in the nation before existing talents become “useless” and robots do all the work.

Sophia herself was designed to be a companion for elderlies at nursing homes, or aid crowds at large events, with features that allow her to serve in healthcare, customer service, therapy as well as education.

Areas with certain subtleties that only a human may perceive via socialising are slowly being filled by Sophia, as she runs on AI, which is constantly being updated for accuracy and complexity.

Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, who also had the chance to debate with her, described the experience as “quite scary”.

Playing the role of opposition towards the topic of the role AI has done for a better world, Syed Saddiq asked Sophia of the possibility of robots taking over the world, especially in the workforce.

“I think the future is extremely hard to predict, especially in regards to technology,” she said.

The debate further evolved into discussions of human emotions that could get in the way of work, but she concluded that humans and AI can both utilise their skills to complement each other.

“For example, robots are capable of defusing bombs, partake in search and rescue missions, and also test chemicals that are dangerous to humans.

“In comparison, we robots will not get tired and we can consistently work, but we still have to rely on the power sources powered by humans,” she said.

Although it seems like the people would have a lot of catching up to do, but in general, AI have been around in our daily routines without us realising it.

And again, Sophia may be right — humans and robots can co-exist and complement each other, in the future not so far from us.