Will robots and computers one day ask the question, Am I a real boy?
That was the question posed by artificial intelligence (AI) researcher Professor May-Anne Williams yesterday in a presentation at the University of Technology in Sydney.
Professor Williams said the quest for AI is revealing much about how the human mind works and is opening the path to a new technological age.
A world leader in AI research with more than 100 publications in the field, Professor Williams surveyed which scientific breakthroughs remain to create truly intelligent technology.
As the director of the innovation and technology research laboratory in the faculty of IT, Williams said the quest for AI is now in its 50th year.
"The potential benefits are profound and already leading to stunning improvements in many human endeavours," she said.
"Advances in AI over the past decade have been extraordinary; from the development of bionic sensors and limbs to the placement of robots on Mars.
"However, despite this, robots and computers are still mere extensions of humans, much like puppets - although very sophisticated ones."
Wiliams said some of the remaining obstacles to true AI lie in understanding how knowledge is represented in the human mind, a process that has potential benefits in solving many human problems as well as opening the way to self-aware machines that can think, act and learn independently.
She said some of the challenges include building adaptable robots and intelligent systems that can create and manage their own perceptions and perform in complex and dynamic environments.
"They will need high levels of awareness, and not just knowledge about what they are currently doing, but what they are capable of doing," Williams said.
"At this stage of development we will have some questions to consider, much like those raised by science fiction writers like Philip K. Dick or Isaac Asimov.
"When robots reach human level AI with self-awareness and feelings, then what should be their status in society? Will it be wise or fair to exploit them as slaves to do our bidding?
"Since there is an inherent link between the ability to communicate to others and the ability to deceive, as machines approach human level AI, will they discover the power of deception? Could they use their extra-human sensors to fool us?"
Professor Williams, who is team leader of the champion UTS robot soccer team UTS Unleashed!, said the Robot Soccer World Cup (RoboCup) competition could be the catalyst for the all-important AI breakthroughs, since it focuses international research effort in a potentially lucrative strategic direction.
The game of soccer encompasses both the physical and mental skills that scientists must reproduce to create autonomous robots.
"If we are to meet RoboCup's objective of creating a robot team that can beat the top human team by 2050, we'll need to create robots that understand intention and that can anticipate opposition responses and develop deceptive moves for effective game plays," she said.