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The Start of A Robotic Society

Feb 15, 2017

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Did we just witness the start of a robotic society?

An alliance of robots working in league with one another for the benefit of all (robots), not one?

Don't worry. Our robotic friends haven't yet risen and overthrown us. I'm not writing this under duress, while two robotic hard-men point a Taser at me and chat my washing machine up as I write.

But there has been some important news about the way in which intelligent machines work together - and when they don't. It gave me cause to think. I'll show you why today.

What news from the robots of London?

This all stems from a recent paper from DeepMind, Alphabet's (Google's trading name) London-based deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) division.

The paper outlines an investigation into when and how rudimentary AIs co-operate and when they compete.

In one test, the "agents" had to collect apples. (If you work at DeepMind - why did you pick apples? Machines don't need apples. What are you thinking!)

The agents could "immobilise" (attack) others around them in order to compete. Researchers found that when apples were scarce, the agents attacked each other. When they were abundant, they co-existed. Though the smarter the agent, the more likely it was to just attack first - perhaps anticipating future scarcity.

So far... so apocalyptic.

But wait! Researchers ran another test. The set-up was roughly similar (though the agents were wolves catching prey in this scenario... again - why?).

There was one key difference though. This time it wasn't just the wolf that caught the prey that benefited. All wolves within a certain radius did. In this game, the agents were much more likely to co-operate.

I think that's to be expected. Why? Because that's exactly why human society works!

If you're alone and there's no possibility of sharing your success with others - as the agents were in the first test - then it is in your interest to look out only for yourself and attack others.

No chance to share resources, skills or ideas means other agents are only a threat.

But that's not the way the world works.

In the real world, people share what they produce in exchange for what others produce.

The reason family units, tribes, villages, towns, cities and eventually nations have formed over human history is because we're able to share in each other's success. We can divide our labour and our time and trade with one another.

The benefits of sharing and specialising far outweigh the downsides (at least of the very basic level we're discussing). Why wouldn't the same be true of machines? When you can share in the achievements of others - and they share in yours - you insure yourself against failure and make success more likely.

The real question is, if we added humans into the mix... what would happen? If humans and machines were competing for the same resources and could immobilise each other, would that result in all-out war or social harmony?

Again, it comes back to trade.

If there's competition for scarce resources you might expect conflict. But not if the benefits of co-operation outweigh the need to fight. Why would machines be exempt from the laws of trade and exchange? The problem would be if we had nothing to offer them.

This all assumes incredible advances in our ability to create intelligent machines, by the way. But it's an interesting thought experiment.

Because we are living through a period of intense research, innovation and development in the field of AI... one which could reshape the markets and the world at large.

Which, by the way, is the rationale behind Project 10-X. It's to help you see these technologies coming - and then pick the company with the most disruptive, revolutionary potential.

That might not be for you. It's certainly not for everyone. Shooting big - and aiming for 1,000% gains from small tech stocks - is a risky pursuit. That's why I've recruited a man with experience at doing just that.

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Here's a secret: one of the companies Sam's been researching is a direct play on the emerging field of AI. Perhaps AI scares you. It can certainly feel disconcerting. Personally, I'd rather own a piece of it than just stand by passively. But that's just me.

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When machines beat humans by 250%

Robotics and AI is a pretty huge field. And it is most certainly not all about research tests in a lab. There are all sorts of real world commercial applications.

For instance, just last week news broke that a Chinese tech firm had eliminated 90% of its workforce and replaced them with robots.

The headcount fell from 650 to 60. The goal is to reduce that to 20.

The result? The company can now produce 250% more equipment, with a lower level of mistakes.

Hard to argue with that.

Hard not to feel like the world is changing quickly around us.

Hard not to feel like you really ought to join us tomorrow night and claim a stake in all this.

Please note: This article was first published in Capital and Conflict on February 14, 2017.

Nick O'Connor is a writer and editor at Moneyweek. He is also the publisher of Exponential Investor.

Disclaimer: The views mentioned above are of the author only. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Equitymaster do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader. Please read the detailed Terms of Use of the web site.

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