On October 26, 1984, Orion Pictures released The Terminator, a movie about genocidal AI-powered robots unleashed by a tech company. Unfortunately, the executives at Microsoft must have been doing something else that day. As part of an ongoing partnership with OpenAI, the makers of ChatGPT, Microsoft’s next plan is using the chatbot to control robots.
“Our goal with this research is to see if ChatGPT can think beyond text, and reason about the physical world to help with robotics tasks,” Microsoft said in a blog post Monday, spotted first by the Register. “We want to help people interact with robots more easily, without needing to learn complex programming languages or details about robotic systems.”
Robots run our world, from the mechanized arms building products in factories to the sad, mechanized robo-vacuums cleaning my uncle’s floor. If you want a robot to do anything new, you need an engineer with advanced technical knowledge to write code and run multiple tests.
But imagine a world where you can communicate with the robots directly and give them commands in plain English. What if the robots understood the laws of physics? That would be good, right? Microsoft thinks so, and they’re probably right—although it’s unsettling considering the company’s first AI experiment saw an unhinged Bing chatbot spouting racism, declaring it was alive, forming a secret identity, and dropping hints about plans for world domination.
Microsoft published a paper with a new set of design principles to use a large language model like ChatGPT to give robots instructions. The company’s framework starts by defining a list of high level tasks a robot can perform, writing a prompt that ChatGPT translated into robot speak, and then running a simulation of the robot following your instructions. You tweak it until the robot gets it right, and then deploy the finished code on your robot friend.
If that sounds simple, it’s because Microsoft is nailing a phenomenally complicated engineering problem, and they posted some fun videos as proof of concept. Skip to 0:52 for a preview of the last sound you’ll hear before the robots kill you.
Fortunately for the Sarah Connors of the world, we’re several steps away from a robot holocaust. On the other hand, they’re already using ChatGPT to run drones, and you don’t get flying Terminators until Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, so the engineers at Microsoft may be skipping ahead.
Admittedly, this is all a lot sexier than another update to Office 365. Let’s just hope the kinks get worked out before ChatGPT is controlling machines in the physical world, because the robots in all the movies I’ve seen are either homicidal or very depressed.