Sheldon Cooper Teaches us about Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Just by Being Himself

Sheldon Cooper, the popular character from CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, is like artificial intelligence and machine learning in human form. Putting aside his other personality traits and behaviors, his ritualistic behavior and locked down protocols may seem compulsive to some, but to others, it is something very different.

“Would you like a hot beverage?” This is how Sheldon Cooper reacts when a friend is upset. He offers the hot beverage without compassion, empathy or emotion. He does it solely because this is what he was taught to do.

When Sheldon’s friend Leonard asked Sheldon why he offered this, he responded: “Leonard, social protocol states when a friend is upset, you offer them a hot beverage, such as tea.” Similar to artificial intelligence, Sheldon knows the actions to take, but he hasn’t incorporated emotion.

Eventually, Sheldon is corrected enough times that he tries to add in empathy with the words “there there.” These are still actions, stated without emotion. Similar to machine learning, he will continue to learn and add to these responses through continual feedback. Eventually, he may even incorporate behaviors and activities which would reflect compassion and empathy.

It is difficult to conceive, but over time, machines may also be taught to show compassion. Initially, they will sound awkward and clumsy, just like Sheldon Cooper. They will go through the motions and say the right words, yet something will be missing. In some cases, as they continue to evolve, it may even become difficult to distinguish between a human and a machine.

If humans were programmed to be artificially intelligent and made to use machine learning to improve their skills and reactions, Sheldon Cooper would represent the early stage of development we often see.

His reactions, although culturally correct, are expressed without emotion and most decisions are made through repetitive behavior and decision trees. He has even created algorithms for making friends:

We often hear about artificial intelligence and machine learning, and we may not even realize these two things are already a big part of our lives.

By automating responses and actions of machines, websites, telephony, and by making them more human, our lives will continue to become easier and more efficient, giving us more time to do other things.

This technology has already made many advances, but is still in its infancy. We are seeing progress with virtual assistants both online and at home and there are advancements happening in many fields. Things are changing and improving at exponential rates. With new advancements, Sheldon Cooper and products like Amazon’s Alexa are evolving closer to one another.

Maybe someday soon Alexa will sense that you are upset, turn on the teapot and offer you a hot beverage.

It may be sooner than we think.

(Photo credits: CBS / The Big Bang Theory)

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