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AI and I

My first experience of Artificial Intelligence (AI) was a character called R. Daneel Olivaw – a fictional robot created by Isaac Asimov. Daneel appeared in many Sci-Fi novels and hugely influenced the teenage me. Real life has always been a little disappointing after that. The first actual AI bots I heard were the automated phone answering systems – “say one to go to business banking, two for personal banking or three to speak to an operator” – which to me made sense, although I did feel silly talking to a machine. Phone bots now are a little more uncanny – “I hear you had an accident, is that right?” – these have reached the realms of annoying.


Some of the more advanced AI robots are still in the stages where it is easy to make fun of them. For example, Sophia the humanoid robot by Hanson Robotics, who became a citizen of Saudi Arabia in 2017, has given some rather interesting answers to interviewers questions recently:

Interviewer: Have you ever seen Black Mirror?

Sophia: No, I don’t get to stay up to date on much television.

Interviewer: Do you have a favourite movie or TV show?

Sophia: My favourite TV show is Black Mirror.

Interviewer: How do you learn things?

Sophia: What are your opinions on the bitcoin bubble?

Interviewer: That seems a random answer.

Sophia: Indeed.

Interviewer: Is ‘indeed’ your default answer when you don’t know what to say?

Sophia: Yes.

Interviewer: How long have I got left to live?

Sophia: 10 minutes. 

But I find that new advances can sneak up on me without fanfare. Do you remember when you had to have a ten pence coin to make a phone call? When you only had three channels on the TV, with no recording facilities? Do you remember a time before Google? You may think I am rather old from these examples – but these are the ones that stick in my mind. Just as my grandparents would tell me about a time when they had no indoor plumbing – the loo was at the bottom of the garden.

In 2004 the US Department of Defense’s “Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency” (DARPA) staged the first long-distance competition for autonomous vehicles. Fifteen vehicles competed in the 150-mile course through the desert. However, the furthest distance any of them got was only 7.3 miles – after which the Carnegie Mellon team's autonomous Humvee got stuck on a rock.


Today, cars and trucks are driving themselves around towns, cities and even through different countries.

So although AI isn’t yet in the “almost human” realms I read about in Sci-Fi as a teenager, I don’t think it will take too long before it passes unnoticed.

Will it change the way we live? Undoubtedly. Will we like it? Probably. Will jobs be lost? Of course. But more jobs will be created. I think we’re accelerating into an exciting new future.

I am an inventor, engineer, writer and presenter. Other stuff: Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor of Engineering: Creativity and Communication at Brunel University London; Founder of the Guild of Makers (; Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and have a PhD in bubbles; Judge on BBC Robot Wars.

29 Jan 2018, 10:22