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Robot revolution

May 11, 2016

robot-chessOur robots are getting smarter. Should we be excited or scared?

At the next STEM Café, “RoboRevolution: The Future of Sentient Machines at Home and in the Workplace,” two NIU thinkers will explore the many ways cutting-edge robotics and artificial intelligence are changing our lives.

The free talk and discussion will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 1, at Eduardo’s Mexican Restaurant, 214 E. Lincoln Hwy.

“Many of the changes enabled by robots will be unquestionably good,” says Ji-Chul Ryu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, who will discuss his research on robots that help special needs children and disabled adults. “But other developments are more complicated, and those complications are only going to increase.”

These more complicated developments include technological advances that allow robots to take over human jobs. Ryu and his co-presenter, Stephen Haliczer, will discuss the past, present and future effects of this workforce displacement on worldwide political and social stability.

“What does it mean that we’ve built machines that can do our jobs and beat us at complex games like chess?” asks Haliczer, the special assistant to NIU’s vice president for Information Technology Innovation (and an NIU Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus from the Department of History).

But the answers are not all bleak.

robot-homeRyu and Haliczer will describe many ways in which humans and robots are working together now–and can work together even better in the future, especially as robots become increasingly “sentient,” or capable of thought.

“The key fact is that as robots’ intelligence and abilities evolve, they will become more and more different from human intelligence and abilities,” Haliczer says. “This can reduce the chances of competition and increase our opportunities for collaboration.”

Of course, ensuring harmonious human-robot coexistence will take work.

Ryu and Haliczer will discuss government and private sector efforts to regulate the development of intelligent machines and ensure they don’t escape human control.

“Visions of robots taking over the planet are common in movies and on TV,” says NIU STEM Outreach Associate Judith Dymond. “Ryu and Haliczer will bring some nuance to the subject, recognizing the real causes for concern but also for optimism.”

This event is one of STEM Outreach’s monthly STEM Cafes, all of which are free and open to the public. Food and drinks will be available for purchase from Eduardo’s.

For more information on STEM Cafés and other STEM events, call (815) 743-4751 or email [email protected].