Intelligent technology—the evolution and future of automation

August 31, 2016, Chinese Association of Automation

The world's oldest board game still has a few moves to play. Go, a game of strategy and instinct considered more difficult to master than chess, was created roughly in the same era as the written word. The game is uniquely human—at least, it used to be. Last year, a computer program called AlphaGo defeated an internationally ranked professional player.

The computer's win signaled a significant evolution of information technology (IT) and artificial intelligence (AI), according to Fei-Yue Wang, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. As a result, IT is no longer "information technology"—the new IT is intelligent technology.

In a recent editorial published in the IEEE/CAA Journal of Automatica Sinica, Wang argues that core principles of automation and Al must be reconsidered as the world navigates an IT paradigm shift.

"AlphaGo is not only a milestone in the quest for AI, but also an indication that IT now has entered a new era," said Wang, who is also the vice president and secretary general of the Chinese Association of Automation.

Wang sketches the progress of robotic and neural machine-human interaction in a timeline of five "control" eras. Automation evolved from the pure mechanics of ancient water clocks and steam engines to the eventual development of electric circuits and transfer functions that gave way to power grids. Digital computers and microprocessors signaled the third shift and paved the way for the fourth—the internet and the World Wide Web.

In the first four controls, physical and mental realities were approximated as accurately as possible and adjusted through the use of dual control theory. A machine with a set of conditions and a goal could succeed or fail. As the machine acts, it also investigates to learn what action may result in a better future outcome.

Between the physical and mental spaces, there is another reality in need of double control. Augmented reality, or artificial reality, bridges the gap of actuality and imagination. Pokémon GO is a prime example, as people navigate the physical world to find fictional creatures with only experience as a guide. The parameters and goals shift with each new exposure.

"In Control 5.0... only association revealed by data or experience is available, and causality is a luxury that is no longer attainable with limited resources for uncertainty, diversity, and complexity," Wang said.

Recognition of all three worlds and the dual learning roles of each, according to Wang, will be essential in the fifth era of intelligent technology.

Explore further: Where does AlphaGo go?

More information: IEEE/CAA Journal of Automatica Sinica, DOI: 10.1109/JAS.2016.7508796

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