The coolest part of the “Iron Man” movies is, well, the Iron Man armour.
The second coolest part, though, is the sweet holographic computer interface that Tony Stark uses to control it. No mouse, no keyboard, just hand gestures and voice controls.
Designed by Oblong Industries CEO and award-winning interface expert John Underkoffler — who also created the similarly memorable gesture-based computers from Steven Spielberg’s 2012 sci-fi flick “Minority Report” — Tony Stark’s systems provide a tantalising look at a way of computing that seems so close, and yet so far away.
But, as Underkoffler tells Business Insider, we’re missing something really vital and intentional about the computers in both “Minority Report” and “Iron Man.”
And that’s the fact that there’s “explicitly and purposely” no all-seeing, all-knowing artificial intelligence that gives “Minority Report” and “Iron Man” stars Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. the answers they need. It’s down to human intelligence.
In “Minority Report,” those cool computers are a “cognitive ecosystem” for investigators to share evidence and work together on a murder case, Underkoffler says. Meanwhile, up until 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” Tony Stark’s “JARVIS” artificial intelligence is more of a supercapable Siri, not a real autonomous character in its own right.
Which is why Underkoffler thinks that Elon Musk is on the wrong track with his new company OpenAI and its foundational mission to keep artificial intelligence from destroying the world.
“Elon Musk should know better,” Underkoffler says.
Underkoffler’s thesis is simple. There just isn’t enough investment in building so-called “strong AI” to warrant the handwringing.
We’re building cool and useful tools, like Apple Siri or Microsoft Cortana, that can predict our needs and wants. And just like JARVIS helps Iron Man by doing data analysis, taking simple orders, and presenting information at crucial times, we’re building systems that can anticipate our needs and help us get more stuff done, faster.
In fact, Underkoffler’s Oblong Industries is building the so-called Mezzanine, a “Minority Report”-inspired computer, but in real life, designed to use these kinds of technologies to help people work together in the same room, in the same virtual space.
Predictive intelligence can do things as simple as placing the buttons you most often use closer to hand, or as complex as telling you the likely outcome of what might happen when you push any given button.
But nothing we’re building, at least so far, is cognitively advanced enough to really gain sentience, let alone decide that humanity must be destroyed.
“It’s just not plausible, because it’s not going to wake up,” Underkoffler says.