The increasing robotization and intelligence of objects is leading to a seamless presence in our everyday life. The Internet of (every)thing is on us and it is growing in our homes, in our cities, at the office….. The sheer number and variety of intelligent/robotized objects will seamlessly morph into a fabric of connected objects out of which an overall behavior will arise. We are part of this evolving ambient and we are interacting with both intelligent/ robotized objects and with the cyberspace. We are a component of this ambient, we live in symbiosis with it and soon enough intelligent systems will live in symbioses with us. By 2050, it might be more and more difficult to put a dividing line between life and non-life. Artefacts will be able to become aware, to self-repair, to look for ‘food’ and to multiply. May be the are even sentient.
Symbioses is a natural phenomenon, it is not planned nor it is the result of an agreement between the symbiotic partners. That will be similar, in many cases, in the symbioses among artefacts (and artefacts and humans) once the artefacts will grow to become self-adapting.
It does not necessarily mean that each partner can live independently of the other (we cannot live without our symbiotic bacteria), it means that each partner is behaving according to its own rules (autonomous), and the symbiotic relation binds the two autonomies. The future will see behavior and meaning stemming from complexity and this, in turns, is a side effect of systems. A single IoT will not qualify to become a partner in a symbiotic relation, but a system comprising several IoTs, interconnections, data, and intelligence will. In a more distant future, and 2050 may be a reasonable thresholds, autonomous systems might have the capability to create and establish a direct communication with other autonomous system and negotiate a joint activity to pursue a goal.
An autonomous system has to be intelligent to the extent that is has to work out, by itself a survival strategy in its interaction with the environment. The more interaction is present, and the more articulated (varied) the more intelligence is required. In the quest for embedding intelligence in autonomous systems as they become more and more flexible, adaptable and increase the level of interactions with the environment, cooperate with one another, the need for higher levels of intelligence grows. In the context of symbiotic autonomous systems the overall intelligence is shared among its components and it is interesting to study how the human intelligence can cooperate with the artefacts intelligence: a symbioses with a machine, with an autonomous system, can lead to an increase in our human capabilities. The development of this collective Intelligence looks for inspiration at biological systems.
Living beings have shown an incredible capacity to adapt to their environment. That went through millions of years, thousands and thousands of generations and immense extinctions. The ones surviving are the ones that manage to adapt to a changing environment. Autonomous systems have been designed to operate within specific boundaries. As they become more and more powerful they will face broader and broader contexts and will need to adapt to ever more complex changes.
In turns, this requires a growing understanding of their environment (bordering on awareness) and the capability to alter the rules of the game through which they conform their behavior. In symbiotic systems this issue is compounded by the presence of two, or more, interactive autonomous systems, one of which can be a biological one.
We will be living in a world where the boundaries between life and objects will be more difficult to perceive. Of course this may take several decades but we will find ourselves speaking with objects and with the environment more and more, we will take for granted that we can talk to them, they will talk back to us and engage in a meaningful interaction. We will expect robotized intelligent objects to be the norm and to take the initiative. A further step in symbiotic autonomous system foresees an awareness of an artificial autonomous system, to become aware of its limitation and to seek assistance from another system, including interacting with a human.
IN OUR CONTROL?
There are balanced ecosystems where autonomous systems (living beings including plants, animals and microbes) achieved a dynamic equilibrium with resources. In the last centuries (and accelerating) human civilization has been a major factor in the evolution of biomes by changing their equilibrium leading to anthropogenic biomes and (re-)shaping the mix of life and its interplay.
This has been done without any conscious design on our part. Actually, we have just recently realized the impact we are having on the Planet and the undesired consequences. Hence we are starting (or at least there is a strong demand for) to take actions leading to a rebalancing. So, like all life on Earth, we have evolved to adapt our behavior to the context in which we live. However, by becoming able to change the environment to better suit our needs, humankind went a step further than simple adaptation. As a result, in the coming decades we will see that for the first time, artifacts that we have created will start to adapt themselves and their behavior based on their ecological context. The interaction of several systems, each one independent from the others but operating in a symbiotic relationship with the others—humans included—will give rise to emergent entities that do not exist
As example, the future city becomes a living, ever changing, organism (of which citizens are not just inhabitants and users of its services but an autonomous system on their own) is a perfect example of symbiotic autonomous systems, with various hierarchies and interactions, diversity of goals and cooperation needs plus competition forces.
Robotics, intelligent systems will be a science of artificial life forms and their interactions will be au pair with today’s communities of living beings, first, probably more comparable to ants or bees societies but them upgrading to more sentient societies, like human societies. The former will probably become realities in the 2030-2040 (with some proto societies developing sooner) the latter will likely become real and diffuse in the second half of this century.
We live in a dynamically changing world where we will be responding to the behavior of machines, machines will be responding to our behavior in a continuously changing fabric, and it will become progressively more difficult to distinguish between cause and effect between man and machine. The establishment of a symbiotic relation among (autonomous) systems as well as between them and humans.
In the coming decades we will start designing biomes as part of the symbiotic autonomous systems science. It will see a cooperation among different technologies, from the ones supporting monitoring to the ones supporting intelligence from smart materials to complex systems theory and application. This emergence of novel abstract (although very concrete) entities created by these complex interactions is probably the most momentous change we are going to face in the coming decades. To steer these trends in a direction that can maximize their usefulness and minimize their drawbacks requires novel approaches in design control and communications that for the first time will place our tools on the same level as ourselves.
The change will be gradual, the scaring part is that only few will realize the change.