The AI revolution is coming to robots: how will it change them?


For scientists who grew up enchanted by Star Wars, the absence of C-3PO-like droids in our daily lives feels like a letdown. Where are the humanoid robots brimming with practicality to assist us at home and work?

The rapid progress in artificial intelligence (AI) might soon bridge this gap. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we are the last generation for which those sci-fi scenes are not a reality,” remarks Alexander Khazatsky, a researcher in machine learning and robotics at Stanford University.

Major tech firms like OpenAI and Google DeepMind are now channeling their AI expertise into robotics. Their aim is to equip robots with common-sense knowledge, enabling them to tackle a wide array of tasks. Many experts foresee a significant leap forward in robotics capabilities. “We believe we are at the point of a step change in robotics,” says Gerard Andrews, a robotics-focused marketing manager at Nvidia.

Simultaneously, robots could enhance AI development. By integrating physical experiences into AI training, researchers hope to edge closer to achieving ‘artificial general intelligence’—AI with human-like cognitive abilities across various tasks. “The last step to true intelligence has to be physical intelligence,” explains Akshara Rai, an AI researcher at Meta.

However, amid the excitement over AI’s integration into robotics, caution is warranted. Impressive demonstrations often precede practical implementation, a process that can be lengthy and complex. Rodney Brooks, a roboticist at MIT, warns of the gap between demonstration and deployment.

Overcoming hurdles like data scarcity and safety concerns is crucial for the success of AI-powered robotics. While foundation models trained on vast internet data show promise, they still require extensive physical data to navigate real-world scenarios effectively.

Pooling data from diverse sources and leveraging simulation techniques are avenues researchers are exploring to address these challenges. Efforts to create open-source datasets and sophisticated simulators aim to equip robots with the skills needed to interact with the world adeptly.

As AI continues to evolve, so too does the debate on its impact. While some envision robots revolutionizing industries, others advocate for caution, citing safety risks and ethical considerations. Regardless, the momentum behind AI-driven robotics suggests a future where machines play increasingly integral roles in our lives.