We have seen great strides made in artificial intelligence (AI).
As sci-fi readers and film buffs know, many of these ideas that have been foreshadowed — and that seem far-fetched — in fiction are beginning to seem possible. Whether we are considering the benevolent Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation or fearing the terrifying Terminator, we are entering an era where AI as is rapidly entering the public discourse.
A number of technologies are going to make the AI that we see in film possible. In addition to supercomputing and cloud computing, technology such as robotics, computer vision, machine learning, nanotechnology, and computational power in small spaces will directly affect the way that AI develops in real life. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a great place to start thinking about what will come next.
The tech we have now
Supercomputing and cloud computing have driven a great deal of innovation, even though most of the public might be unaware of it. Many of us rely on supercomputing almost daily when we receive our weather forecasts. Multiple models are used to predict general weather and help identify more precise tracks for severe weather events, such as hurricanes.
Cloud computing is a lighter form of supercomputing that is being used to assist with complex web and mobile applications such as voice recognition. The ability to effect remote computations or services and take advantage of them will be crucial to making the things we see in film possible. Even if we assume that future artificial life might not have a use for spoken language, it is likely that being able to speak and be heard will be a key part of any advances in AI.
Robotics is an area that has a longer and successful history. This technology is already extensively used in manufacturing, where large robots predominate. However, advances in robotics are increasingly following Moore’s Law-like behavior, where we can pack more functionality into smaller form factors.
For example, robotic hands (including prosthetics) are being developed for amputees by companies such as Open Bionics. A quick look at their site reveals inspiration from films such as the Star Wars franchise, Frozen, and the Marvel universe, among others. Suffice it to say, film is inspiring innovations that are slowly but surely bringing AI to life. While this is not exactly creating full androids yet, being able to realistically mimic physiology is a key component of building the next Terminator.
A future Terminator is also going to need to be able to see. With advances in autonomous vehicles (drones and automobiles), we are getting closer to having that intelligent pair of eyes. While much has been made about accidents involving Teslas and other self-driving vehicles, computer vision is making incredible strides forward.
Also, when technologies such as parallel processing (which comes from supercomputing) and distributed processing (in the cloud) are added into the mix, we can expect that computer vision — involving omnidirectional cameras — will be able to accomplish full vision. Unlike a pair of eyes, a future Terminator will not be limited as mere mortals are. Luckily for us, we will be able to wear head-mounted gear to augment our vision, too.
The tech that’s next
Ultimately, this amounts to a core set of technologies that make it possible to build a Terminator or other crazy robots or droids you have seen onscreen. But what can’t we do yet? In Terminator, we see things that are possible with computer graphics, such as morphing between the android and liquid metal. In Star Trek we have molecular transporter beams that can be used to transport anything. While neither of these is necessary and are unlikely to be fully possible in our lifetime, breakthroughs in nanotechnology are starting to have an impact.
For example, we have artificial insects that are essentially microrobots, mimicking life. When you consider that Leonardo da VInci’s original vision was for humans to be able to fly around like birds, it is clear that this same inspiration is going to help us get closer to some of the crazy possibilities in film. Mimicking insects and worms, especially at micro/nano scale, is just one of many ways to accomplish at least a subset of the morphing we find in films.
So buckle up, film fans. As the one-hit wonder Timbuk 3 said, “The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.” In the coming century, we can expect to see innovations in technologies that will change film and our everyday lives. We can expect to see much more use of intelligent machines, including drone technology. Also, AI will evolve the automobile and continue to be integrated into self-driving vehicles. Ultimately, it will continue to play a crucial role in the technology that we interact with everyday.
You can view a demo of how AI is making Hollywood come to life here.