Robots have a bad reputation. Remember WALL·E? Or Ex Machina? It’s usually a sort of depressing, and often creepy, world we're referencing when we talk about machines with a personality and intellect.
But it's time we get used to machines operating in our human world — and operating it for us — because it’s not that far off.
There are lots of things that “robots” (or, more likely, algorithms) can be good at. With machine learning, they get better every time, too, by default. How many humans do you know who actually learn from their mistakes? Machines can.
And tech already makes our lives easier. We order cars. Transfer cash. Work remotely.
In his TEDx talk, data scientist Jeremy Howard claims, "We're really at a point now where computers seem to be able to do nearly everything better than people can." To the point that sometimes we regard our tech devices as people.
Like Joaquin Phoenix in the movie Her. Speaking about what inspired the movie, Spike Jonze told The Guardian about the initial buzz that came with his experience interacting with a human-esque system — and the subsequent shattering of the illusion, as he "noticed the repetition of the system's 'wit.'"
But as machines get smarter, the movie's plot becomes more plausible.
At Finovate 2015, Alfa Sense presenter Vladimir Urbanskiy cracked wise about Sense's virtual assistant feature, saying, "Even some of our clients believe that it's some kind of a girlfriend." To which co-presenter Nikita Filippov quipped, "Yeah. I'd like to date her."
The Kind of App You Can Take Home to Mother
And who wouldn't fall in love with an app that can learn how to take care of your needs without you having to micro-manage it? We all get a kick out of Siri knowing our names. But in the case of apps like Alfa Sense — which go beyond their core offerings (in this case mobile banking) — it makes you feel like you truly have your own personal assistant. A relationship that can start to feel very human indeed.
For example, using data from your calendars and location services these intuitive apps can learn when you're about to travel, and do things like:
- Suggest you transfer money into local currency
- Help you stay on budget with visualizations
- Offer restaurant suggestions that coincide with your itinerary — and take your food allergies into account
And that's just the beginning. Machine learning apps recognize being away from home at a late hour means you might need a taxi. They can let you know you're about to go over budget on the company card at dinner. Just about anything you can imagine is possible — or will be.
As technology improves, so do the offerings of machine learning apps, and the polish with which these offerings are presented. Siri, though a trailblazer, can be clumsy to load and use. Newer apps like Sense make more elegant use of human language while also taking care of your Internet searching, Yelping and electronic tasks. Is this how celebrities feel?
The Assistant As Roommate
Beyond mobile apps, and larger endeavors like self-driving cars, machine learning is entering our living rooms. Amazon’s ECHO has Alexa (and when we get over being scared of machines, we should talk about the fact that most of these “assistants” are women), the arguable precursor to the Jetsons' Rosey the Robot.
You can sit in your kitchen and tell Alexa about your to-do list or ask her to remind you to buy toilet paper. She’ll turn on your Amazon TV for you, fire up Amazon Prime, and if you connect it, control Nest.
Nest, the machine learning thermostat, controls the temperature of your home. It figures out who’s home and how you like your temp. That’s not just useful in eradicating quibbles with your spouse about how early you should start using the central air, but it also saves energy, probably its biggest selling point.
But really, all the selling points are big — though we're already taking them for granted. Whether it’s knowing when you need directions, how close the nearest coffee shop is, or what your favorite TV shows are, we are already getting used to having machines think for us.
And if that means having your expense reports prepped before you even get home from that business trip, or never running out of paper towels again — what’s so wrong with that?
Bring on the machines.