Civilized society 2117, Part 6:

Cristina Andersson: “Civilization will be an asset for humankind in the future.”

Expert in robotics, Cristina Andersson would like Finland to take robotization more seriously.  She anticipates that, at some point in the future, robots may even replace policymakers.

Christina Andersson
In recent years, Cristina Andersson has become an advocate for robots and artificial intelligence. Here, she is shown with Aira, the robot that was named after Aira Samulin, a popular personality in Finland. A scene from a factory around a century ago serves as the backdrop.

There are particular places where you can say the past meets the future. Whether it’s cliché or not, the saying is so fitting for Airo Island, located next to the former waterworks in the City of Helsinki, that it would be a pity not to use it.  

When you walk in and up the stairs, you first come face-to-face with the past, represented by exhibits from the neighbouring Museum of Technology that are being stored in the Airo Island premises. You can admire, for example, the old steam engine from Imatra State Hotel that dates back to 1898, or a locomobile, that is, a steam engine on wheels, from 1911.

When you continue to the upper level, you enter the future. This is the home of Airo Island. In the name Airo Island, the first part is an acronym for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, and the second part denotes the location on an island. Airo Island is an innovation hub for Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Automation, which many believe will soon revolutionize the world, just as steam engines did in their time.

Looking around, it’s like being in the office of any start-up business.  There are desks, laptops and shelves full of books and miscellaneous items. And yes, there are robots, too.

Within five years, robots will be part of our daily lives

We are welcomed by Cristina Andersson, who is a non-fiction author, entrepreneur and expert in robotics. She grabs a toy cat from the shelf, it starts meowing and waving its paws just like a real cat.  It is not, however, a toy but an interactive robotic cat, equipped with sensors that make it respond to, for example, rubbing and stroking.   

A robot cat that costs less than 100 euro is proof that robots are becoming affordable for anyone.

On the table, there is another small robot, Aira.  Named after a popular personality, dancer Aira Samulin, this 50-cm-tall robot is capable of imitating the movements of its human model and, for example, teaching dance moves.

Both of these devices are good examples of the fact that robots are becoming increasingly common in our everyday lives. A robotic cat, for example, costs less than a hundred euro, so it is affordable to practically anyone. But despite this development, we still tend to view robotics as being something utopistic, more like science fiction.

Andersson believes that the situation will change rapidly.

“Within five years, robots will be a part of our daily lives. They will assist humans and improve the quality of our lives. There are already countries where robots are used to bring a take-away pizza to your home or do grocery shopping for you. Robots serving as domestic help are also becoming more common.”

Andersson explains that, as the result of recent technological breakthroughs, the current robots are highly skilled in performing a variety of tasks. There are, for example, robots capable of folding T-shirts.

“This skill may sound ridiculous but, in fact, it is a reflection of a huge revolution.”

Through Boho Business to robotics

For a person engaged in robotics and artificial intelligence, Andersson has a somewhat unique background. She is not a software developer or IT nerd or otherwise technically oriented. At the university, she studied Education, and after graduation, worked as a teacher at, for example, a commercial college.

In the early 1990s, Andersson started a company of her own and became a business consultant. She was particularly enthusiastic about the learning capacity of teams and organisations, and for a decade or so, she taught these aspects of learning in companies. The psychology of winning was another area of interest for her, and she wrote a book on the matter.

Robots and artificial intelligence entered Andersson’s life in 2011. She and Dr. Jari Kaivo-oja, who is an expert in futures studies, were discussing the ‘mental state’ of Finland. Their conclusion was that human creativity should be encouraged to flourish.

Andersson and Kaivo-oja decided to arrange a social happening, a Bohemian party as they called it. No such party was ever arranged, but their discussions resulted in a book entitled Boho Business, with a subtitle ‘humankind’s victory over machines’.

“As we were working on the book, we realized that there was a global phenomenon that nobody in Finland was talking about, namely robotization.”

At the Airo Island premises, you can learn not only about robots but also the history of technology. Old steam engines from the collections of the neighbouring Museum of Technology are on display at the premises.

Civilization is the cornerstone of humanity

Boho Business was published in Finnish in 2012 and in English (Boho Business – Winning in the Age of Bohonomics) in 2016. Since the publication of the book, Andersson has talked about robotization and artificial intelligence at hundreds of events and interviews.

Her message is that, even though robots may threaten to take our jobs, humankind will emerge as the winner thanks to human mental capabilities. Intellect, creativity, inventiveness, emotional energy, artistic skills and learning ability are among those human characteristics that are hard for robots to imitate.  This leads us to the core theme of this article series: civilization.

“Civilization is a human resource and the cornerstone of humanity itself.”

According to Andersson, the robots may be capable of exploring databases and learning all about, say, the Inca civilization, but they still lack the holistic understanding of civilization and culture as possessed by human beings.

“Robots have no wisdom of the heart. For humans, wisdom of the heart means that we should try to be good people in the real world.”

In Andersson’s mind, people should pursue to continually and independently educate and civilize themselves. Human civilization is our asset in the race against untiring machines. She advocates, in particular, non-formal adult education.

“People want to learn, for example, how to build a cuckoo clock and are happily queuing to sign up for courses. It’s marvellous! The non-formal adult education system is a resource for our nation. It is the passion for learning that makes people join the courses and educate themselves.”

Building cuckoo clocks may not appear particularly smart in terms of national economics, but Andersson reminds that we should not look at the subject of the studies but rather at the studying itself.

“Individual learning skills are the most important thing, and they are best developed by studying. Learning is linked with a significant transfer effect: If you’re good at learning one thing, you will also learn other things.”

Interestingly, in the future, robots may be involved in this type of non-formal education of adults and actually teach human beings.  As an example, Andersson explains that Aira, the robot, is programmed to give a presentation on the Trojan War.

“When Aira tells about men riding in the war, it simultaneously displays a riding man.”

A robot learns bad habits

There is reason to be concerned about the current state of civilized society, for the sake of robots, at least. Robots do not exist in a vacuum, but rather, they learn from human beings. Again, Andersson gives an example.

“Microsoft tested a Twitter robot. Within the first 24 hours of its operation, the robot turned into a racist and stated in its tweets, among other things, that all feminists should be killed and Obama is a gorilla. These ideas were learned from human beings, not from other robots. We humans really should look in the mirror! We need to deepen, expand and enhance our civilization. For the time being, the overall picture is not promising.”

In the future, situations may arise where a robot outperforms an uncivilized person. This has, in fact, already happened. Andersson refers to an experiment in Rotterdam, Netherlands, where a receptionist robot was introduced in social services to guide customers and solve their problems.

“It appeared that the native population preferred to speak with human receptionists, whereas the immigrants would go to the robot. Could it be that those who experience discrimination would rather meet a robot because it will not judge them but will only assist as required?”

So, there is a need for the wisdom of the heart in the future. Unfortunately, we humans do not always have the energy or ability to be socially civilized. Andersson anticipates that this will pose a big problem for elderly care in the future. She refers to a recent survey carried out by the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health, Valvira. Nearly 8,000 employees within social services responded and up to 93 per cent of them reported that the elderly had been subjected to some kind of abuse.

“We will soon see the day when an elderly person says that human caretakers are not welcome.”

Technology will offer solutions to the humankind’s great challenges

Andersson has a positive view on the shared future of robots and humans.

“I believe that all of the great challenges faced by humankind can be resolved by means of technology. In the Netherlands, a robot has been developed that is capable of sailing and cleaning the sea. It moves around in the Port of Rotterdam and collects waste, especially plastic litter.”

A major role in the development will be played by artificial intelligence and robotics, the main competence areas of Airo Island. When these technologies are combined, things will develop at a fast pace, says Andersson.

“They actually represent two independent but inseparable technologies.  Intelligence alone is only intelligence and a robot does what it is taught to do. When these two aspects are joined, a robot becomes capable of doing many different things.”

Experts in the field view robots with deep-learning capabilities as the ultimate revolution for humankind, more dramatic than the combustion engine, antibiotics or microchips. 

Robotti pyörien päällä
Andersson recently took part in her first robot construction course. She built a mobile robot that is capable of tracking a black line drawn on the floor.

There are people who have doubts about the union of artificial intelligence and robotics. One concern is what is known as the singularity. Singularity denotes the moment when artificial intelligence has accelerated the technological development and social change to such speeds that human beings may fall behind. The sceptics vision a future such as that in the Terminator movies, with hostile robots attempting to wipe out human beings.

Andersson does not believe this will happen. Instead, she foresees a union of man and machine in the future. We already talk about wearable technology. Biohackers have sensors implanted in their bodies that monitor, for example, alertness and posture.

“The convergence of human beings and technologies is already underway. If you lose your leg, it can be replaced by a cyberleg controlled by your brain. The first aim may be to replace a lost or injured limb with a cyberlimb but, at some stage, people might voluntarily want to let go of, say, their right arm and have it replaced by a more powerful cyberarm.”

Andersson does not think that machines would be hostile towards men. Why would they want to destroy humans if they are in symbiosis with them?

Artificial intelligence is required at the parliament

In Andersson’s mind, people in Finland have not yet understood that robotization signifies an inevitable revolution.

“A civil servant engaged in innovation once stated that robotization is not at all important for Finland, because we don’t need manufacturing industry. But it is all about more than just losing jobs at factories, robots will be everywhere. In the USA, a lawyer robot that contests parking tickets has already won hundreds of thousands of cases.”

Along with robotization, different cyberprofessions will emerge.

“If there is a robot surgeon in use, the human surgeon can perform an operation regardless of his or her location.  A harbour in Norway is being run by a control unit situated in Turkey, and China will reach the milestone of one thousand completely unmanned factories this year.”

According to Andersson, we should learn to utilize robots and artificial intelligence in all areas of society, including high-level decision-making.

“Ministers would benefit from the use of artificial intelligence since the volume of data is currently so massive that we humans can no longer cope with it. A piece of information is found by artificial intelligence in fractions of a second, whereas the search process performed by a human being would take a considerably longer time. Artificial intelligence could prepare proposals to serve as the basis for human conclusions and decisions.”

Andersson explains that the executive management of major corporations like Tieto and Volkswagen already draw advantage from artificial intelligence. Could we, in the future, have robots as ministers or members of parliament?

“Yes. Robots could already now be used as assistants to members of parliament and ministers. Robots are capable of screening massive amounts of materials. If they are programmed with the values of the relevant party, they could draw up statements and opinions based on the material. In addition, we should have a special artificial intelligence minister that would produce outlooks based on different parameters.”

Even though having minister robots sounds like a fun sci-fi vision, Andersson points out that it is important to take robotization seriously.

“This is such a big topic that it should be included as an important issue among other important issues,” she pleads.

  • Text: Valtteri Väkevä
  • Photos and video: Liisa Takala

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