Berkeley researchers developed an AI optimization technology that enables an AI robot to ‘imagine’ the future of their actions in order to manipulate objects they have never encountered before.

In today’s AI landscape, deep learning neural networks are all the rage because they allow an AI to learn autonomously.

Let me give you a good example: Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have recently developed a new robotic learning technology that lets robots predict the future much like humans do.

The researchers took inspiration from the motor babbling of human babies, which is a term used to describe a baby’s frantic playing with toys and with its body in order to learn how to manipulate itself and objects around it.

But how did they do it, and what does that mean for the future of robotic AI software? To answer that question, let’s get into the details of UC Berkeley’s robot, Vestri.

Building a Smarter AI Robot

The idea behind Vestri is pretty simple. Whereas conventional robotics implies pre-programmed responses, Vestri is capable of responding on the fly.

Of course, while the idea is simple, the execution is anything but. Let me try to put things into perspective for you. Optimally, Vestri should have the kinds of motor skills that an adult human has. Currently, however, Vestri is still at the level of a toddler.

This is because Vestri is still in the initial stages of learning. Human brains learn through doing, which is why babies make so many awkward movements. It’s that process we referred to, called motor babbling, and it took Vestri about a week to complete.

Rather than learning how to move, #Vestri is learning what moving is like. #babybotClick To Tweet

At this stage, Vestri is more of a proof of concept for greater things involving a relatively new technology called visual foresight. Visual foresight allows an AI to learn simple manual skills without any supervision. The software sees, it reacts, and it learns, and that’s bleeding edge AI technology in a nutshell.

Vestri uses its visual input to create images that it predicts will happen. By using these predictions, Vestri is able to choose the best one. So far, that takes the form of Vestri moving objects around on a table.

In the future, though, it could lead us to an AI that can anticipate mistakes and protect itself and even humans from harm when things go awry.

Control via video prediction requires autonomous observations by the robot. This means that the robot needs to see outcomes for itself, without the copious amount of supervision that other AI gets. Simply put, the AI needs to learn for itself, by itself.

That level of independence requires imagination, which is what video foresight simulates. It leads me to wonder if this kind of technology will set the direction for the AI robot of the future.

With a Little Imagination, an AI Robot can do Anything

Look, we all want self-driving cars, and it seems like optimizing an AI’s ability to make predictive decisions is crucial to that effort. That said, such an ability is useful for way more than driving.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s an elephant in the room when it comes to the implications of visual foresight: Combat.

Militaries worldwide need to have an interest in whatever can threaten their country. That’s how nations survive. Since AI has virtually limitless applications, it’s natural for there to be an AI arms race going on.

And don’t kid yourself; there’s definitely an AI arms race going on. That means that, for better or worse, things like visual foresight could have some dire implications. That said, this issue has always existed in one form or another.

What’s way more fun is the idea of robots who can perform advanced motor skills.

Remember the giant robot fight back in October? Ok, technically they were giant mechs, but if you had AI that could control them, you would have a real robot fight on your hands. Maybe then they would use more dangerous weaponry (and a bigger chainsword).

You could have entire sports leagues populated by robots. That isn’t so farfetched when you consider how AI are already competing in the eSports scene. We’re halfway there, we just need the type of AI that can handle new situations without supervision.

Is This the Direction that AI Optimization is going in?

Like AI technology itself, the implications of visual foresight are virtually limitless. And the best part? All it takes is a bit of imagination.

When you can imagine something, you have the chance to make it a reality. That’s what brings us invention and innovation, and much much more. If we are giving AI the ability to imagine something autonomously, then it follows that they will be able to invent or innovate for themselves.

We’ve seen proof of this already. For example, Facebook had to shut an AI-powered chat bot down because it invented it’s own language. To add to that, there is even a case where an AI ‘innovated’ that the Icelandic language is obsolete.

According to Maurice Conti, a futurist and TED speaker, “Computers can come up with their own solutions to well-defined problems. but they’re not intuitive, they have to start from scratch every time.”

If we change that, we may start seeing a completely different kind of AI than we’re used to. We may start seeing AI with imagination, and I think that could lead to AI with their own motivations.

It could even lead to an AI with a human-like consciousness.

But that’s my opinion. I want to know what you think.

If one can conceive of something and decides that it is the best course of action, what stops one from working to make it a reality?

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