Can artificial intelligence and robots take the place of politicians? “Perhaps yes, because it is human beings who design artificial intelligence”, says Hiroshi Ishiguro, professor in the department of adaptive machines at Osaka University and one of the leading experts in robotics in the world. He is a guest at the Italian Tech Week in a panel, together with the scientific director of the Italian Institute of Technology Giorgio Metta, who however has a more defined position: “Absolutely yes, I would trust more a rational decision taken on the basis of data and artificial intelligence compared to one human decision, which can be influenced by emotions. But the robots that manage our infrastructures must have the same value system as us, otherwise huge errors are possible.”
Ishiguro and Metta, moderated by the deputy director of La Stampa Marco Zatterin, discussed for about an hour, describing a human and working relationship that was born in 2005 and which six months ago also led to an agreement for the transfer technological and for the exchange of researchers between Osaka and Genoa, where the IIT was born twenty years ago.
The affinities between the two centers are many, as are the divergences. Ishiguro is famous for his humanoid androids, and has also created an exact copy of himself: “We work above all on interaction with humans,” he explains, and for this reason it is fundamental that a robot has human features.” On the other hand, the robot-symbol of the IIT is iCub, which seems to have come out of a cartoon: small, rounded, with two big digital eyes. “We want to study long-term learning – says Metta – and manipulation is very important, the robot must be able to touch things. So you need sophisticated hands, and we focused on that.” It is also a cultural difference: “In Japan man does not have a special place in nature, he is as valuable as animals or plants, perhaps in the West religion plays a role in this”, underlines Ishiguro. Metta responds with a very practical consideration : “If you need a robot for a specific application it is better for it not to have a human form.”
Visions Different but the same: differences and affinities between the androids of Metta and Ishiguro by Emanuele Capone 21 September 2023
By studying artificial intelligence and robots we also learn many things about human intelligence and our behavior, Ishiguro had said a few minutes earlier in his keynote, Avatars and future society. In the panel we discover that it also works the other way around: for example, androids have a gender because this makes them more similar to human beings, “who have a vast variety of genders”, as the Japanese scientist reminds us. “Children and the elderly interact more easily with robots without particular sexual characteristics, while adult males prefer female-looking androids.” “When we interact with artificial intelligence and robots we perceive that a non-human personality exists, and this makes us open to all possibilities,” adds Metta. “We are not so good at accepting what is different from us, we know this from history, but perhaps thanks to artificial intelligence and robots we will learn to be more tolerant of differences in human beings.”
And it might not take long, according to the director of the IIT: “Within the next decade at the latest we should have a considerable increase in the presence of robots. This will depend on the possibility of containing climate change and guaranteeing a healthy life for a population of elderly which is constantly growing, especially in countries like Italy and Japan”. The changes that the age of robotics will bring with it will be enormous, but Ishiguro is not scared: “Human beings will have more time to create, to think, to have fun, because work does not define who we are.” But can we trust robots? “If we buy something in a shop we count the change to make sure it’s right, but if we use a machine we never check.”