Coffee and child care: the benign smart-tech future?


VANCOUVER, Canada — Intelligent machines of the future will help restore memory, mind your children, fetch your coffee and even care for aging parents. It will all be part of a brave new world of the not-so-distant future, in which innovative smart machines, rather than being the undoing of people — as some technophobes have long feared — actually enhance humans.

Many expert say technology will allow people to take on tasks they might only have dreamed of in the past. “Superintelligence should give us superhuman abilities,” said Tom Gruber, head of the team responsible for Apple’s Siri digital assistant, during an on-stage talk at the prestigious TED Conference. “As machines get smarter, so do we,” Gruber said. “Artificial intelligence can enable partnerships where each human on the team is doing what they do best,” he told the popular technology conference. Gruber, a co-creator of Siri and artificial intelligence research at Apple, told of being drawn to the field three decades ago by the potential for technology to meet people’s needs. “I am happy to see that the idea of an intelligent personal assistant is mainstream,” he said. Now he has taken his innovative approach to smart machines, and is turning the thinking about the technology on its head. “Instead of asking how smart we can make our machines, let’s ask how smart our machines can make us,” Gruber said. Already smart technology is taking hold, with popular digital assistants like Apple’s Siri, created Gruber. South Korean giant Samsung created Bixby to break into a surging market for voice-activated virtual assistants, which includes Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana. Amazon appears to have impacted the sector the most with its connected speakers using Alexa. The service allows users a wide range of voice interactions for music, news, purchases and connects with smart home devices. Gruber envisions artificial intelligence getting even more personal, perhaps augmenting human memory. “Human memory is famously flawed — like, where did the 1960s go and can I go there too?” Gruber quipped. He spoke of a future in which artificial intelligence remembers everyone met during a lifetime and details of everything someone read, heard, said or did. “From the tiniest clue, it could help you retrieve anything you’ve seen or heard before,” he said. “I believe AI will make personal memory enhancement a reality; I think it’s inevitable.” Such memories would need to be private, with people choosing what to keep, and be kept absolutely secure, he maintained. Boston Dynamics robotics company founder Marc Raibert was at TED with a four-legged SpotMini robot nimble enough to frolic amid the conference crowd.