Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s New Year’s resolution is to create an artificial intelligence that can manage his household, help him run his company, and even keep an eye on his child.
Zuckerberg even had a fictional model in mind for what he wants: the intelligent computer program J.A.R.V.I.S. that assists Tony Stark in the Iron Man and Avengers movies. Jarvis was originally a human butler in the comic books, so Zuckerberg’s model is a machine that wound up with a human’s job. In the movies, the Jarvis A.I. is accidentally involved in unleashing a superintelligent killer robot that juices adamantium and bench-presses small Eastern European countries. Jarvis eventually achieving transcendent intelligence himself and became a superbeing.
Has Zuckerberg thought this idea all the way through?
“I’m going to start by exploring what technology is already out there,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page. “Then I’ll start teaching it to understand my voice to control everything in our home — music, lights, temperature and so on. I’ll teach it to let friends in by looking at their faces when they ring the doorbell. I’ll teach it to let me know if anything is going on in Max’s room that I need to check on when I’m not with her. On the work side, it’ll help me visualize data in VR to help me build better services and lead my organizations more effectively.”
“This should be a fun intellectual challenge to code this for myself. I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn over the course of the year,” he concluded.
Naturally, Zuckerberg’s idea made those who worry about the rise of artificial intelligence a bit nervous, although what he’s describing is more akin to a very large implementation of something like Apple and Microsoft’s digital assistants, Siri and Cortana.
The UK Independent notes that Zuckerberg is sounding an awful lot like the nutty, egotistical Internet billionaire who created an artificially intelligent robot in last year’s movie Ex Machina. A major element of that story involved the kooky billionaire tapping into the vast amount of data entered into his company’s search engine to build the robot’s personality. It didn’t end well, because the robot outgrew her creator’s design, escaped his control, and is now starring in virtually every movie made by Hollywood, displacing countless human actresses.
Zuckerberg has a fair point that innovation on this scale tends to result from someone with extraordinary resources addressing a previously unexplored need. If we’re ever going to have robot butlers, someone will have to build the first one, and it’s probably going to be someone like him.
Conversely, the public’s growing comfort level with digital assistants is causing them to slowly expand through “the Internet of things” and exert more control over the systems of everyday life. A great many devices in the average American home can now be controlled with a smart phone. It’s not that much of a stretch to imagine good old Siri evolving to the point where you can ask her for help with work, preheat your oven for dinner, or give you a peek at what your child is doing. All of those functions are possible now — they just haven’t been packaged and made accessible to the Everyman as a single unified system at consumer prices.
We might as well let Mark Zuckerberg horse around with the next step at his place and let us know how it goes. He can afford to cover the damages if his self-aware house goes on a rampage and has to be taken down by the military.