Could Chappie's robot-policed future come to pass? A real-world robotics expert weighs in

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Mar 6, 2015

Chappie is the artificially intelligent robo-protagonist of Neill Blomkamp's Chappie, but he's only one of three different types of robots we get to see in the film. He -- an autonomous, self-aware robot -- is joined by "The Moose," a remote-controlled machine, and the general police robots, who are something in between.

Given the increasing prevalence of drones and other advances in robotics, are we truly heading toward a world policed by machines? Will robots learn and grow as Chappie does? How likely is it that we will ever have a robot police force? Will we soon be welcoming our evil A.I. overlords? We spoke with Dr. Wolfgang Fink -- an associate professor and endowed chair of microelectronics at the University of Arizona with 13 patents on autonomous systems -- who talked to us about how Chappie stacks up to what we might see in the real world.

Here's what we learned:

The definition of artificial intelligence (A.I.) isn't what you think.

Dr. Fink says, "From a scientific point of view, A.I. happens to be a technical term, and only describes systems that are rule-based: If you encounter different situations and react [in different] ways. If you have many of these rules, it looks like the system is intelligent. The problem is, with A.I., if you encounter something for which you do not have a rule and did not anticipate, you essentially do not know how to react.

"As such, an A.I. system is actually not an autonomous system. My claim is how A.I. has been done over the last several decades is not the path to a truly autonomous system."

Although we have about 2 billion computers at our fingertips, it will take more than the world's combined computing power (with the power of Moore's Law behind it) to give us a creation like Chappie.

Fink says, "If you use thousands of CPUs together, they're equally dumb, because they still need to be programmed. Sheer numbers alone is not going to cut it."