Computational Actors in a Physical World

Friday, February 12, 2016: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Wilson A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Gregory D. Hager,Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
The convergence of computing, people, and physically embodied systems will soon challenge the way that we think, we work, we play, and how we carry out our everyday lives.  Imagine a world where familiar automated technologies have failed.  In that world, thermostats don’t work -- you have to monitor your home heating system manually. Cruise control for your car doesn’t exist. Every elevator has to have a human operator to hit the right floor, most manufactured products are assembled by hand, and you have to wash your own dishes. Who would willingly adopt that world - the world of the previous century - today? Physical systems - elevators, cars, home appliances, manufacturing equipment - were more troublesome, more time-consuming, less safe, and far less convenient.

     Now imagine a future in which transportation is largely autonomous, more efficient, and far safer; a future where dangerous occupations like mining or disaster response are performed by autonomous systems supervised remotely by humans; a future where manufacturing and healthcare are twice as productive per person-hour by having smart monitoring and readily re-tasked autonomous physical agents; a future where the elderly and infirm have 24 hour in-home autonomous support for the basic activities, both physical and social, of daily life.  Would someone trade that world for one where someone has to put their life at risk to do a menial job, people lose time to mindless activities that have no intrinsic value, or family members are consumed with worry that a loved one is at risk in their own home?

     This future is already on the horizon, and it will pose a number of new, unanticipated, and unique challenges. This talk will explore how new computational actors in our physical world may both reshape and challenge us from a both a technological and societal perspective. I will focus on three questions: 1) How might these and future technologies “level the playing field” within and across societies, and how might they lead to increasing disparity?  2) What attributes of computational actors are likely to challenge or accelerate acceptance? and 3)  What new research and policy questions will these advances introduce?