Do robots dream?

The Grid. A digital frontier. I tried to picture clusters of information as they moved through the computer. What did they look like? Ships? Motorcycles? Were the circuits like freeways? I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see. And then one day . . .

-“Kevin Flynn” Tron Legacy

At 10:00 AM, I found a minute to drink a coffee, something all people in IT can’t live without. I closed my eyes for a moment and imagined the movie “Tron Legacy”, masterpiece of Cyberpunk. I imagined the Grid and world of Flynn, the world I always dreamt of, where machines and people live together peacefully.

I relaxed, and a smile came to my face. I realised I was going deeper into my thoughts and daydreaming.

“Ladies and Gentleman!”

Boom! I woke up from the announcement, people running, excitement around, noise and blinding lights. “Welcome back to reality.” I told myself and heavily started moving in the direction of the crowd by the main stage.

WebSummit 2016

WebSummit 2016, Lisbon, Kevin Spacey performing his legendary talk in front of a crowd of 20,000 people. That was a huge hit. Entrepreneurs from over the world were excited to show their passion, get to know other people like them, and learn new stuff.

I was around all these people as part of the ecosystem and proud to present the most hyped industry so far, AI. And, within this excitement, nobody really realized the whole importance of the movement and why people should consider it more carefully.

Seventy five percent of startups were exhibiting products closely related to AI, machine learning and Big Data. As an entrepreneur, I was excited. For the last 5 years I had never been involved with a topic that had so much hype, and now I was in it.

Going through the stands of different exhibitors, talking to them and getting to know their ideas and passion was a huge excitement. I remember speaking to one entrepreneur who had this crazy idea of collecting data from wheelchairs with the goal of enabling a better future for handicapped people. He truly believed he could disrupt the healthcare industry and help disabled people.

At another stand, a young lady from Sweden was showing me a prototype of a shoe that collects data and analyzes usage, which will enable shoe producers make their products better.

I saw my friend who had his own telematics solution, which my team has helped to build, and a huge crowd was asking about data privacy.

One thing was very clear, everybody does something with data, and this data will probably be used to develop industry-specific AI technology. So many people contribute time, money and passion, and we know what happens when a human being is passionate about something… there will definitely be a breakthrough.

Data Intelligence Meetup 2017

Munich, Germany 2017. Data Intelligence meetup, famous speakers lined up, I am the main organiser, orchestrating the crowd and entertaining them with latest developments in the AI field.

Everybody is in good spirits, and a lot of people are trying to ask questions. Suddenly, I see an old man in the crowd. He’s not the usual attendee for these meetups. I introduced myself and asked his name and interests. His name was Andreas, and he has been a factory worker in a German automotive company his whole life. Then, he told me that I was probably too busy and had no interest in his story. I was surprised by his frankness and asked him to leave his contact information. I was intrigued.

Two days later, I gave Andreas a call. I asked if he had time to talk with me. I had been thinking about him for the last two days, and I couldn’t stop wondering why he came to the meetup. It was a place where young entrepreneurs went to network, and he wasn’t the typical audience.

Andreas told me that he had worked in a factory for most of his life. He finished a worker’s school after the war and started in the factory at the age of 17. He had a passion for the cars, something he could not resist. That was his pride and the pride of German industry. He liked his job and had retired 20 years ago. Andreas was 87 years old.

While working, he lived in a small village near Munich and was travelling 1 hour to work each day via public transportation. I felt sadness in his voice, and asked him if I could be transparent with him. He said of course and called me son. I was shocked. The only person who had ever called me that was my Grandfather who passed away 20 years ago.

I asked him a question about why he decided to visit the meetup. There was a silence for a minute, and then a sudden question. He asked, “Albert, do robots dream?”

That was something I did not expect.

Do Robots Dream?

I told him that they did not. Robots are engineered and have no feelings. He said, “Let me tell you a story.”

I got to the factory when I was 17, two years after the war ended. Germany was in ruins. The tragedy of the people and the hope to feed their families was among everyone.

My father died during the war, or at least that’s what I was told, and my mother died from an aviation bomb. I had to go to work to feed my little sister who was born during the war, and I always dreamt of having a car. So the choice was obvious, I went to build cars and learn.

A lot of young men were seeking to get a job and work for pennies just to have a hope, and that hope was the automotive industry and rebuilding the country. We were all friends, and by the age of 25, I became a senior to others and started to manage the engine department.

We had a lot of new employees, and the work was very difficult. One day, I came to work with a bad feeling. I was over obsessive that day and had a strange feeling that something bad would happen.

That day, while having my lunch, I heard someone let out a painful shout. I jumped up from the table and ran downstairs. There was a lot of noise. People were gathered around, and a man was crying from pain. My co-worker’s hand was under the engine, and he nearly lost it. Nobody had the bravery to help him. I decided to do something. He was losing too much blood to be left like that. My only option was to completely put down the engine and cut his hand off with it. That would allow us to take him out and stop the bleeding. I had a tough choice, and my hands were frozen from fear.

I closed my eyes and imagined this man playing in the garden with his kids with an artificial hand. I could see him having a happy life, and decided that was what I had to do. Yes, I dreamt for a while and understood that If I did not save him, I would leave that man without a dream. So, I did my part and completed what I was supposed to do. I saved the man. The ambulance completed the rest.

I was astonished with the story. I could not speak.

Andreas asked me, “Do you know what happened next?” I asked what?

He said that this man passed away 3 days ago, and he was his closest friend in life. He had a beautiful wife and two kids with a nice house near the lake.

Then, he asked if I remembered my question for him.

I was silent. He reminded me that he was interested to see if Robots dream. Because his dream saved a man’s life and created a lifetime friendship. He told me, “Now ask yourself, can robots do the same?…..”

 

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  • Artificial Intelligence
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