Valley Voice
Don’t rage against the machine!

Robots will be part of our daily life. Very soon they will drive our cars, help us at work and will take care of us when we are sick – once we stop fighting them.
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“Don’t let the machines win, take the stairs” – I recently discovered this sign next to an elevator. That was so typical. Californians are health freaks; they work out wherever they can. I don’t understand why they even have elevators in Silicon Valley. Pick an office on the 22nd floor, it’s a lot cheaper than the gym.

Whatever. While I was entering the elevator and the doors closed slowly, I gave the topic a much more serious consideration. What the healthy demand also expresses was of course a general skepticism towards machines. What happens if we have to deal with a robot in a self-driving car within the next five years or if they become our co-workers? Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, or Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, are afraid that artificial intelligence research could go wrong.

I’m sure Musk and Gates know a lot about computers, cars and rockets – but they don’t know everything. It does not help to start a rage against the machine. As if robots were already able to take over like in the British movie “Ex Machina”. Above all, the drama of a young (male) programmer losing the psycho-fight against a young (female) robot shows the fear of the (male) director towards women. Everything else so far is just science fiction.

When you talk to people who do scientific research on the structure of the human brain and the nature of intelligence, they always tell you that we don’t know anything. Like Robert Desimone, director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and professor of Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “We are just starting to understand how neurons and brain circuits work.”

Kurz und schmerzhaft: alle Kolumnen

Kolumnenkabinet

And even if scientists should grasp the nature of intelligence one day, it will take much longer to teach that knowledge to a machine. That is true even for the very best robotics engineers, I found out talking to Sangbae Kim at the MIT Biomimetics Robotic Lab. His robot “Cheetah” is one of the fastest robots on the planet and the first that is able to jump over obstacles.

I asked him when machines will take over and he was all smiles. “It’s annoying to see how slow we are to catch up. Compared to a cheetah in the wild our robot is like the clumsiest baby.”

When I walked out of the cabin I felt relieved. After all we should stop the rage, start to think – and take that damn elevator.

Es gibt auch eine deutsche Version dieser Kolumne.

Immer Dienstags schreibt Britta Weddeling, Korrespondentin für die Themen Internet und Netzwirtschaft des Handelsblatts im Silicon Valley, über die neusten Trends und kleinen Kuriositäten im Tal der Nerds.

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