Terminator in Real Life? Most Likely.

26 Aug 2015

Is it possible to teach a computer to learn? It most certainly is.

If it is possible to program a car how to drive itself, to program a phone to give you directions from point A to point B in your own hometown, to program a keyboard to predict the next word you type, then it is most certainly possible to teach a computer how to learn. We are already doing it.

Having been on my high school robotics team for four years and having lived through four six-week FRC robot build seasons, I became pretty familiar with the process of building a robot, and I often like to think of that process as if it were a person we were putting together, rather than a machine. During the first few weeks, the mechanical and design teams would assemble the robot’s body. In the next few weeks, the electrical team would connect the sensors and wire up the control system, or as I like to put it, the robot’s cardiovascular and nervous system. Finally, the complete but inanimate robot body was brought before my team, the programming team, and we would load our code onto its CPU brain, turn it on, watch it spring into motion (eagerly hoping it wouldn’t accidentally destroy anything), and scream “IT’S ALIVE!!!” These were the awakening moments when I realized the importance of the field that I am now studying, and esentially inspired me to pursue computer science for next many years of my life.

To program a robot, as I saw it, was to bring it to life and give it intelligence, the ability to see, sense, think, process its surroundings, and everything else it needed to rock the field on game day. But I often remind myself that the things I programmed during my high school robotics years barely scratch the surface of the possibilities of what I may someday be able to do with the skills I learn in college studying Computer Science.

If it is possible now to teach a computer to learn, imagine what else will be possible in the not-so-far future. Will we be able to create the Terminator in real life? What about a personal wellness coach robot like Baymax, capable of conversing with a patient, making diagnoses and administering treatments? Fifty years from now, will we be programming computers to speak for those who cannot talk, see for those who are blind, and move for those who are paralyzed? Will we be developing a device that can rewire the disintegrating brain of a dementia patient? This might sound crazy to you now. If it does, remind yourself that fifty years ago, there was no such thing as a cell phone.

That is why, as a student in Computer Science, I feel that I am a front-line participant in our future. In whatever field I decide to apply my skills to after graduating, whether it be in healthcare, sustainability, or intelligence, I know that my work will help drive our future in the direction of improvement, and I am excited for what is to come.