WNSF: Singularity or Multiplicity? Envisioning a Benign Robot Future

Ken Goldberg, William S. Floyd Distinguished Chair of Engineering at UC Berkeley, doesn’t buy into the prevailing robot panic of our times. His experience running a robotics lab suggests that AI and robots will empower humans, not replace them. “The important question is not when machines will surpass human intelligence, but how humans can work together with them in new ways,” Ken wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal. Rather than fearing the Singularity, the point at which artificial intelligence exceeds human intelligence, Ken encourages us to focus on what he calls Multiplicity, which he defines as “diverse groups of people and machines working together to solve problems.” Multiplicity characterizes much of the recent innovation at Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Uber, where input from people plays a central role.

At July’s What’s Now: San Francisco, Ken took on those who are churning up fears of a near future where half of all current jobs are taken over by robots and powerful AI—let alone a slightly more distant future where robots rule over us. He started the evening by making a presentation that explained what’s really going on in the field now, and why he expects the field to move towards a more benign future. There are few people as qualified as Ken to demystify the future of work when it comes to robots and AI. He is a professor of engineering at UC Berkeley, running a lab that does pioneering research in optimal robot grasping, motion, and design for applications ranging from surgery to manufacturing to precision agriculture to social media. He holds eight US patents, has published more than 250 papers in robotics, and has presented more than 400 keynote and invited lectures to audiences around the world.