Why business professionals should learn to love the robots coming to work in the enterprise — or else

Hanson robots Sophia
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David Hanson is well aware of the reasons business professionals might be a little easy about robots coming into the enterprise, but he believes job security should be the least of their concerns.

The founder and chief designer of Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics took the keynote stage at OCE Discovery in Toronto on Monday, but he wasn’t alone — standing on a dias near him stood Sophia, a humanoid robot who wore a full-length ballgown and participated in a live question-and-answer session with the audience.

Largely based on open source software and with hardware designed to mimic all the major muscles in the human face, Sophia may not capture hearts like the artificially intelligent companions in Ex Machina or Her, but Hanson said she is an example of the kind of machine we should learn to love. Or at least, respect.

“We’ve all seen Terminator — we know where this can go,” Hanson told the audience, referring to the sci-fi movies where a robot rises up to essentially terrorize humankind. “Will they care about us? Will we be safe? My worry is, if they are truly intelligent and we treat them like servants, that will create a relationship that is really scary.”

Hason has already identified several markets for his “humanlike service robot,” for instance, which include training and entertainment, entertainment scenarios like theme parks and health-care situations like physiotherapy and medical simulation.

Just creating an innovative robot isn’t enough, however. Hanson said businesses also need to invest in machines that spend have face-to-face counters with real people so they learn from what he called “human loving intelligence” and develop “benevolent human intelligence.”

“They are moving with us into the next phase of natural history,” he said, suggesting robots will also simulate the physiology in human beings to develop more empathetic responses to human needs. Hanson’s firm has invested in “Loving AI,” a research project to seek out how robots can learn communicate in a way similar to the unconventional love between family members. 

While some artificial intelligence proponents suggest mankind can simply “train” machines to remain subservient like captives, Hanson urged the OCE Discovery audience to consider a more nurturing approach, both in the way we treat robots and the way we design them to treat us.

Sophia offered a glimpse of what this relationship might look like in Quartz, which profiled how she was used to lead a meditation session. Hanson talked about how a robot could be useful in everything from autism therapy to offering information in hospitality settings.

Of course, it’s not like human beings are necessarily all that kind and nurturing with each other, especially at work. As Sophia is put into more professional environments to learn and adapt, Hanson suggested organizations need to prepare their people for a culture in which people and machines can become true team members.

“We have to do better. We have to teach our machines better,” he said. “We need to develop super ethics, not just super intelligence. If we can’t be our best, machines can’t exceed our worst.”

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Shane Schick

Shane Schick

Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.