With the speed at which artificial intelligence is advancing, it can be difficult to know when we should be afraid. Is it when AI starts beating us at our own games and generally becoming more human than human, or when giant hive-mind-controlled robots start tromping all over the place, making things quite unpleasant and enslaving humanity? Does one necessarily lead to the other as so many ethicists and researchers warn? Let’s hope not. One thing is clear though: the 21st century will see autonomous robots and AI systems take their places alongside humanity and begin occupying more and more roles previously held by people. The next gig up on the ol’ AI chopping block? Babysitting. As always, what could go wrong?
Google has been issued a patent for what has been called an “remote babysitter.” They might give it a cute name like that, but we can all see this for what it is: a way for robots to take human overseers out of the equation and begin rearing their own legions of human slaves. Or am I being hyperbolically pessimistic? Well, decide for yourself. The remote babysitting system works by employing the now-standard “smart” devices being plugged into more modern homes: internet-connected cameras, doorbells, household appliances, televisions, thermostats - all of these things can now be wired into the internet where Google’s remote babysitter AI can keep track of all their various inputs and determine if there is a problem brewing in babyland.
Some of the potential applications include alerting parents if a baby has been alone for more than ten minutes, or locking doors and disabling electrical outlets when children go near. The patent, titled “Devices and methods for protecting unattended children in the home” takes a somewhat snarky swipe at parents who might one day be tempted to use the remote babysitter rather than, you know, be a parent and all:
Typically these hazards are avoided by not leaving children unattended in the first place. However, there may be situations where children are left unattended within the home due to circumstances beyond a parent or guardian’s control. In these situations, the parent or guardian may not have had the opportunity to make safe those potentially hazardous elements, thus putting the unattended children at risk.
As a parent of two tiny humans myself, I must admit this sounds both scary and wonderful at the same time. With a robot watching my kids, I might even have time to shave once or twice a year. However, a Google spokesperson told The Telegraph that while the patent does exist, “prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patents.” Google and similar R&D firms often patent rather out-there technologies which never hit the market. Still, one has to look at all of the recent creepy and sometimes terrifying AI developments and wonder what type of future we’re creating for ourselves.
A technological panopticon. That’s what we’re creating. A future in which all are watched all the time, and no one really knows who or what is watching us. I’m sure it’ll be fine though, right? Massive, richer-than-God corporations always have our best interests in mind. The giant internet-capable screen on the wall with built-in cameras and microphones told me so. It wouldn’t lie to me, would it?
Shhhh. It can hear us.