Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Sentient AI? Not quite there yet, but meet the AI robot Spot

An engineer from Google made news recently when he was suspended from his job after claiming that the AI (artificial intelligence) chatbot that the tech giant is developing is sentient — meaning it has the ability to think or feel like a human being.

The suspension was meted out on the engineer because leading technology firms are one in saying that a sentient AI is still a long way from reality despite the huge progress made on the technology in recent years.

What is true and existing, however, are systems and hardware powered by advanced AI technology that can only mimic actual living things. But they don’t act nor have the capacity to think on their own and only perform tasks they are programmed to do.

One such solution is Spot, the AI-based dog-like robot jointly developed by tech behemoth IBM and robotics company Boston Dynamics. Spot was presented during a recent media event at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown, New York.

For this collaboration project, Big Blue brought in its AI prowess to enable Spot to readily and intelligently understand the data it is collecting. Boston Dynamics, on the other hand, took care in building Spot using its robotic platform.

According to Nancy Greco, director of IBM Research, Spot could eliminate the need to put sensors on every piece of equipment in a commercial or industrial setting. With AI, Spot can interpret in real-time what it “sees” through its onboard cameras and sensors, she said.

Greco stressed that Spot isn’t meant to replace human workers. Rather, it is meant to help keep people safe and make them more efficient as it can enter dangerous environments where workers cannot go because of chemicals or noise or other hazards.

And it’s not just in industrial or workplace setting that AI-powered robots like Spot can be deployed, Greco said. Instead of humans having to go personally in areas where they may run into criminals or disasters, they can just use Spot to get visibility and information in a safe manner.

“There are now many use-cases starting to emerge. You start to see and realize that suddenly many robot models will be needed because the number of use-cases,” Greco said.

Like what advocates having been saying regarding the role of AI in relieving workers from repetitive manual tasks, Greco said using Spot may provide an opportunity for companies to elevate their workforce to higher value roles that are better suited for their skills.


With AI acquiring more agility and intelligence to such an extent that the Google engineer controversially mistook it for being sentient, IBM said it is also aware that questions abound around its trustworthiness.  

Sriram Raghavan, vice president of IBM Research AI

Sriram Raghavan, vice president of IBM Research AI, said the company has been doing work in “trustworthy AI” for a number of years already and has published hundreds of publications on this topic.

“This is an area where IBM Research is truly a worldwide leader because we’ve been in the area of trustworthy AI well before trustworthy AI even became popular,” Raghavan said during a presentation the media briefing at the Thomas J. Watson Center.

The executive said it is important that AI is fair and free from biases as these can adversely affect a business. For instance, he said deploying AI in customer service is crucial because the customer wouldn’t be confident giving out data if the technology is unable to process his or her information correctly and efficiently.

This is the reason, Raghavan said, why IBM is also pouring a significant amount of resources with over 600 research scientists and engineers dedicated to advancing the field of AI.

Together with quantum computing, Raghavan said IBM is harnessing the power of AI in a multitude of areas – from driving efficient and sustainable supply chain to helping fight climate change and making sustainability roadmaps.

For her part, IBM Philippines president and country general manager Aileen Judan-Jiao said the company is engaged with government officials worldwide as they explore the critical questions posed by the advancement of AI.

“The call to action has been crystalline: ethical principles must be put at the core of governed data and AI technology, with open and diverse ecosystem fostered to ensure that AI technology benefits everyone, not just a few,” Judan-Jiao said.

“The message is clear: organizations who want to employ AI to unlock new value and insights, to accelerate discovery or to gain competitive edge, have a fundamental responsibility to foster trust in the technology.”


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