A Top Roboticist Says A.I. Will Not Conquer Humanity
Cars will drive themselves, robots will clean your toilet—but exponential progress is unlikely
If you imagine the technologies that will define daily life in 50 years, it’s tempting to think of Arthur C. Clarke’s dictum that advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. You might envision the world of 2069 bursting with things we would consider fantastical today.
The problem with that is, technologies don’t just magically appear. They come from the clever refinement and recombination of previously existing technologies. Even when powerful innovations do arise, it can take decades for them to replace old stuff that works well enough.
To wrap my mind around where we’re actually heading, I called Rodney Brooks. Brooks, 64, is both a technological optimist and a realist. He’s the former head of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence lab at MIT and a co-founder of two robotics companies — iRobot, maker of the Roomba floor cleaners, and Rethink Robotics, which until recently made robots that could work closely with people. He also has written extensively about why A.I. is overhyped, and how people misunderstand the uneven pace of technology.
This conversation has been edited for clarity.
Medium: Where would you begin to think about what daily life will be like in 50 years?
Rodney Brooks: Self-driving cars are going to be a big thing 50 years from now. From the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, cities got transformed all over the world by automobiles. We are going to have another transformation of our cities, I think, from autonomous driving and personal transportation, although it may clog things up so much that we’ll get much better public transportation. I don’t know yet.
The city is going to be rather different, and there’s going to be a lot more cities. We’re going to have twice as many people in cities, across the world, as we do now. And then: the impact of climate change, which is undeniable. I was in a hotel just south of D.C., in August, where there were trees, and little village walks, and it was all under a roof, because the climate is…