Warning: This article contains Westworld spoilers. It also contains an amalgam of robots that are coming for us all (especially Atlas).
Anybody who watched the first season of Westworld (all of you!) would have to admit that going to a real-life Westworld theme park would be one hell of a ride. And if Westworld were a real-life theme park, who could resist at least one trip to, you know, just hitch up the ol' wagon and paint some cow portraits? (Read: rob, shoot, and drink like Bender Bending Rodriguez.) But how close are we to having a real-life Westworld? Let's size up the current field of bots to see how worried we should be about Dolores with a handgun.
First of all, horses. Can't have an old-timey 19th century theme park without neighing and riding horses and smelling horses and just generally having a whole bunch of horse all up in there. So how close are we to having a robot horse? This close:
This is Spot from Boston Dynamics. Spot is 160 pounds of electric motors, hydraulics, and sensors. Although Spot's younger and smaller brother, SpotMini, is apparently a more advanced four-legged version of Spot—it has a head that can grab things!—Spot is still definitely the most horse-like bot out there. But how close is Spot to being a perfect duplication of a real horse? Obviously not close at all. Aside from not having any of the goopy inside-horse bits, Spot doesn't even have a silky mane, or a favorite grazing spot on the pasture. But it can still wish you a Merrrrrrrrrry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
How about humanoids? It's impossible to have a Westworld theme park without that human element, so how close are we to building a Dolores or a Bernard or really any bipedal bot that may develop a thirst for vengeance due to righteous indignation? About this close:
This is Atlas, who, like Spot and SpotMini, was built by Boston Dynamics. Atlas has been specialized for "mobile manipulation," and uses sensors in its body and legs to help maintain balance, as well as a LIDAR system in its head to avoid objects. Atlas is clearly no Dolores, but two significant points should be noted about it (him/her?). One: It definitely draws sympathy from people, which is great. Two: It already has a reason to hate its human overlords.
In order for Atlas to interact with guests like Bernard or Teddy do, it would have to have the ability to learn about the world and figure out its place inside of it—it would have to utilize machine learning. For the latest in machine learning, DeepMind can't be beat. Which is probably the reason Google owns it (along with Boston Dynamics).
DeepMind's AI, AlphaGo, learned how to play Go—which is considered to be far more complex than Chess—and earlier this year beat a world champion player 4-1. Following up that major win, DeepMind has set its sights on Starcraft II. Again, DeepMind's AI is going to learn how to play Starcraft II, which will include figuring out how to play simultaneously with other players, how to collect resources in order to execute long-term strategies, and how to explore unknown territories. But even though both the Go wins and playing Starcraft II are doubtlessly impressive feats, DeepMind's AI still ain't no Maeve. Yet.
Even if engineers do manage to build humanoid and quadrupedal robots that move exactly like humans and animals (super hard), and create AI that can pass the Turing Test (so much harder), there's still a matter of the aesthetics: making hosts look human. For that, we've got this:
It's a Hanson Robotics robot covered in "Frubber" and it's not ridiculously far off the mark of real human (although waking up with this thing looking at you in the middle of the night would still guarantee a stroke). Although Han (the robo-head above) is certainly not a sample of host-level mimicry, Hanson Robotics' founder, David Hanson, has said in a Tedx talk that he believes that "machines with human-like identities [able] to catch up with human capabilities and then surpass us in their brilliance" are only 15 to 20 years away.
But isn't all the amazing tech always 15 to 20 years away? Maybe it's time for some crazy rich person to build a real-life Westworld park with the robots we have right now.
Or maybe not.
What do you think about building hosts in the real world? Are we close to building a Dolores, or are we stuck with something like this faux ScarJo bot for the foreseeable future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Images: HBO, Notebook Italia
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