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• Visions of the Future: The Intelligence Revolution

Visions of the Future is a three part mini-series hosted by Dr. Michio Kaku, produced by the BBC in 2007.  The first part is titled The Intelligence Revolution, with Kaku making a broad range of predictions fueled by the exponential growth in information technology, particularly the power of ubiquitous computing.  He’s joined by his buddy Ray Kurzweil (inventor and futurist).  Unfortunately, the majority of the first twenty minutes are bogged down by the concept of “virtual reality”.  Online games are used as stand-ins, and they simply aren’t as groundbreaking as the show would have you believe.  Watching Kaku’s avatar fly around the cheesy virtual worlds as he espouses their grandiose possibilities is rather embarrassing.

At the midway point Kaku gets to the robots, and a little more down to earth.  He begins with a short demonstration of modular robots before delving into object recognition by computer vision.  He then visits Honda’s headquarters in Japan, where ASIMO serves him a drink.  He points to Shintoism (the belief that even inanimate objects can possess a soul) to explain the general acceptance of robots in Japan, which is unique among the documentaries I’ve reviewed.  The real problem of how to develop strong artificial intelligence is largely glossed over.

At this point, Kaku touches on the special qualities of intelligent machines and how we relate to them.  People will project a personality onto a robot as unintelligent and unnatural as the Roomba vacuum cleaner, so it’s only natural that more lifelike robots have a profound psychological effect on us.  Here the SONY AIBO and QRIO are used as examples of robots that have been designed to win our hearts, and are surprisingly effective at doing so.  But, Kaku says, robots that take advantage of our tendency to anthropomorphize objects will need emotions of their own if they are to make intelligent decisions, particularly when it comes to social interactions.

The episode ends with an examination of what may happen if artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence, and how we are beginning to merge with technology.  Rather than trotting out the oft-used example of retinal implants, here deep brain stimulation demonstrates how technology may improve or mend biological deficiencies.  Like Future Fantastic, this is a mini-series that attempts to draw the viewer in with big promises about the future, but ultimately regurgitates the same overly-optimistic predictions we’ve heard countless times before.  For that reason I can’t recommend it, but you can watch full the episode at Google Video if you so desire.


  • Visions of the Future at BBC and IMDB

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