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A robot's view of how AI and humans can work together

Tribune News Service logoTribune News Service 10/5/2018 By Ayisat Bisiriyu, iGeneration Youth
the inside of a building: KnightBo works as a security guard in an office building setting. © Handout/iGeneration Youth/TNS KnightBo works as a security guard in an office building setting.

NEW YORK - Hey kids, have you ever heard of "The Jetsons"? It was a TV show from the '60s featuring Rosie the Robot who lived with a space-age, American family in Orbit City.

Today, when tech companies are perfecting self-driving cars and racing to develop flying saucer-like cars, and when we have moving sidewalks in airports, you might wonder if that fictional future has come true.

So let me introduce myself:

My name is K5, I am a robot, like my aforementioned counterpart, Rosie; but more importantly, I am a security guard, and I work in an office building.

I was born on September 11, 2001 - or at least the idea of me was. My designer, William Santana Li, a developer of autonomous data machines and chairman and CEO of Knightscope, was born in New York City where the World Trade Center was attacked. Realizing that the United States needed a more efficient, way to keep its citizens safe, Li partnered with Stacy Stephens, a former policeman from Dallas, who he had previously worked with in the security industry. The two men started a robotics company, and here I am, a product of their company, doing my part to help keep our country safe.

"Our long-term, slightly ambitious, mission is to make the United States of America the safest country in the world, changing everything for everyone. We envision a world where robots increase the safety of families, of local businesses and even schools," said Li. "It's time we start leveraging new technologies to solve some of our country's most pressing issues. Now."

a bicycle in front of a store window: KnightBo works as a security guard in an office building setting. © Handout/iGeneration Youth/TNS KnightBo works as a security guard in an office building setting.

Jump to the present. There are rumors that robots will soon take over the world or at least jobs in the future. But, as a bona fide member of the robotics kind, I'm here to tell you that's not likely the case. Instead, according to experts at McKinsey & Company, which helps other businesses and organizations reach their business goals, robots, and humans will likely work side by side as the world becomes more and more digital. Artificial intelligence may become more independent and smart, humans will actually become more valued - that is, if they do their homework.

During an annual McKinsey & Company meeting of experts, Bob Kegan, a professor of adult learning and professional development at Harvard Graduate School of Education, explained that as a human, you can constantly learn new skills and adapt them to employers' changing needs. You can't expect the skills you learned in high school or college to last your whole life the way your grandparents' might have. Robots, on the other hand, are not so good at adapting.

So, as a robot, what can I do?

Robots, like me, are jam-packed with data-gathering sensors. We can capture video, determine the temperature, scan and process license plates, count how many cellphone devices you're carrying, and more.

A human wouldn't necessarily know if you were hiding a router in your backpack, possibly preparing to launch a cyberattack, but I would.

If you were to open me up, you'd see there's a lot of machine to me. And it takes a lot of power and a lot of software to make all those parts talk to each other. It's hard work, sure, and most of it humans can't do, but I can't do any of it on my own.

My boss, Mercedes Soria, Knightscope Executive Vice President and Chief Intelligence Officer, says my job is about helping humans, not replacing them.

According to the Service Employees International Union, a labor union which represents private security officers, annual employee turnover in the industry exceeds 100 percent for many security companies and can be as high as 300 to 400 percent. That means most human guards stay at their job for only a year or less.

It's no wonder, security work - walking up, down, and around the same spot every day - can be really boring. "We're trying to tackle the fact that there just aren't enough security guards," says Soria.

A security guard with little or no training is a detriment that can mean the difference between life and death, said Sandi Davies, Director of the International Foundation for Protection Officers. "Your security officer is often your first responder. With today's threats - workplace violence issues, school shootings - you want this person to be prepared and well trained."

So back to me. The truth is, I'm merely an input-gathering machine. The data, the visuals, and the sounds I collect are fed into software in the cloud. A customer might react to it, but I wouldn't know what to do with it.

"Humans will never be out of a job because robots by themselves cannot think like a human," Soria said. "Robots are programmed. They do learn, but at the end of the day, they do whatever they're told to do, no more than that. Humans manage them."

Even if a security guard loses a job because I've replaced him or her, my presence creates other jobs. Someone's got to keep me operating, monitor my work, fix me if I glitch, and so on. Different types of jobs but jobs nonetheless.

You should see me in action. My human co-workers have taken quite a liking to me. They call me K.I.T.T., which is the name of a robotic supercar from a popular TV show in the 1980s. I've heard of other robots that have company access cards. One even got baptized.

Indeed, we are already helping out in our communities. At one hospital, doctors and nurses were afraid to walk to their cars at night because their neighborhoods were dangerous - many cars in those neighborhoods were being broken into. So the hospital hired us to help. In case you're wondering, we're not armed, and we never will be. We patrol and monitor the parking lots and send information back to our human partners. They make the decision on whether or not to act upon what they learn. With our help, the hospital staff is safer. They even wrote in to thank us.

At a shopping mall, we sensed a change in the temperature and our environment. Because of that, we stopped a fire from igniting. Who knows how many lives we saved that day? I could go on.

Like people, autonomous robots never stop growing. Our designers and builders steadily work on new software so we can improve even more. In fact, we will soon be able to detect weapons under clothes, said Soria.

Whether we work in an office with 20 floors, a small hospital, a bustling school, or a sports arena, we can help. And the way the world is going, we'll probably be seeing you soon.

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