Google Identifies Five Potential Robot Safety Problems

Posted on June 22, 2016

Keeping humans safe from the robots they use will become a growing problem over the next few decades. Google discusses some of the potential pitfalls that robotic developers and manufacturers will need to be aware of. These problems are far more urgent and pressing then the greater overriding concern that AI might take over the world and wipe out humanity.

The research paper is called "Concrete Problems in AI Safety." The paper was published here. The Google Research Blog also mentions the paper in a blog entry.

Google says, "While possible AI safety risks have received a lot of public attention, most previous discussion has been very hypothetical and speculative. We believe it's essential to ground concerns in real machine learning research, and to start developing practical approaches for engineering AI systems that operate safely and reliably."

Google researchers and researchers from Standford and UC Berkeley approached the potential robot safety problems by describing ways a fictional cleaning robot could fail. This particular bot is tasked with cleaning up messes in an office using common cleaning tools. Here are the five potential pitfalls: Under the Avoiding Reward Hacking category, The Verge asks, "If a robot is programmed to enjoy cleaning your room, how do you stop it from messing up the place just so it can feel the pleasure of cleaning it again?"

Yes, that would be a problem. A pleasure seeking robot might be problematic for many reasons. Most of these issues will be resolved long before the cleaning robot arrives in your office building or kitchen. No would buy a cleaning robot that covered its eyes to not see a mess instead of actually cleaning it up. Many of these issued will be corrected in the lab or factory setting but it is this kind of thinking that could prevent more unexpected problems from occurring when robots become commonplace in our homes and workplace.