Machines That Help, But Not Replace, Humans

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The essence of the digital age is that machines talk to one another. Whether it’s our laptop talking to a server or a toaster that tweets, machines are being built to communicate. Machines no longer just mechanize human tasks as they have since the industrial age – they are adapting and changing the way we think, interact and live.

We have often heard that machines, such as robots, will replace or outsmart humans. Yet many experts envision a symbiosis where machines will become an extension of humans, anticipating needs and responding to biological and other cues to perform tasks and assist with decisions. And a two-way communication between human and machine will be at the center of this relationship.

As machines increasingly allow us to outsource both mundane and life-altering tasks, recent advances in human-robot interaction have begun exploring ways to mimic the various forms of implicit communication that occur between humans, said Jim Boerkoel, assistant professor of computer science at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif.

“An example is an autonomous vehicle pulling up to a 4-way stop at the same time as another vehicle. While the vehicle may not be able to make eye contact or hand gestures, it can choose to hold back or slowly forward creep to communicate its intention to defer or to proceed,” Boerkoel said.

Systems that interact and process data currently power complex machines like the F-35 aircraft. Ultimately, access to more and better information helps human operators to make better decisions. Lockheed Martin’s fleet information management backbone for the F-35 – its Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) – allows the aircraft to ‘talk’ to its supporting systems.

ALIS integrates all steps of the F-35 sortie generation cycle, constantly monitoring the aircraft’s maintenance status so the pilot can successfully carry out each mission.

This single platform blends a tremendous amount of incoming and outgoing data, such as aircraft maintenance health and battle conditions, to equip pilots, maintainers and military leaders to operate and maintain the stealth fighter. “ALIS is a game changer because there is much more information available before, during and after a flight, and this information makes it possible for service personnel to make proactive decisions,” said Jeff Streznetcky, ALIS director at Lockheed Martin.

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A beauty of evolving machine technology is its adaptability to human needs. Enterprise open system architecture like that used in the F-35, for example, is flexible enough to allow military operators on the ground and in the air to choose any number of options in both hardware and software applications.

Scientist Kristian Hammond, who helped create Quill, a platform that translates Big Data into understandable language, wants machines to have the ability to communicate with each other and with humans in easily understandable ways. He sees machine communication as a natural extension of the need to understand the massive data sets available to us.

“We have started to think of ourselves and technology as a conduit for information. Answers alone don’t make us smarter; answers and communication are the future of collaboration with intelligence systems,” Hammond said.

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Hammond thinks artificial intelligence is entering an era where it will create a narrative to further human understanding. “These are narratives generated by systems that understand data, that give us information to support the decisions we need to make about tomorrow.”

“We don’t all have to become data scientists in order to work with the machine. The machine needs to become more human and work with us,” Hammond said.

Ray Ptucha, director of the Machine Intelligence Lab at the Rochester Institute of Technology, thinks there will be a point when computers become smarter than humans. Futurists predict this will happen in anywhere from 10 to 100 years.

But machines can only evolve in this direction with a deeper understanding of the human mind. “Machine learning techniques that are inspired by the neurons of the human brain are key to making these technological advances possible,” Ptucha said.

In the ultimate symbiosis of man and machine, machine evolution has parallels to the evolution of the human mind, said Thomas Hazel, founder and chief scientist at Deep Information Sciences.

“As the power of the mind increased, so did the functions of the body and vice versa, causing a feedback loop of higher and higher capability and capacity. At some point, in this transformation of body and mind, the ability to communicate between minds occurred, and has had an exponential effect: humans are now creating a machine evolution mirroring their own.”

This article is the second of six stories in the “F-35: How it Works” series produced by The Washington Post BrandConnect. Stayed tuned for the rest of the series in the coming weeks. View the first article here. (Credit WP BrandStudio)