Interview with Dr Danko Nikolic, PhD

CDO and Head of AI at savedroid, CEO at RobotsGoMentalAssociated with Max Planck Institute for Brain Research

Will artificial intelligence develop emotional capabilities to a depth where it can duplicate human interactions?

Dr Danko Nikolic, PhD, has spent his professional life looking for answers to this question. As well as being associated with the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, Dr Nikolic is the CDO and Head of AI at savedroid and the CEO at RobotsGoMental.

His focus is the explanatory gap between the mind and brain, and he believes a better understanding of the human brain will lead to the advancement of artificial intelligence technologies. Dr Nikolic’s groundbreaking theoretical work on how the physical brain creates perception opens the door to an emotionally intelligent AI experience.

Recently Tharawat Magazine had the opportunity to meet with Dr Nikolic to discuss where this cutting-edge technology is going, why it is so difficult to duplicate human interactions and what the widespread adoption of AI might mean for business.

How did you end up working in artificial intelligence?

For me, AI wasn’t the end of a journey – it was the beginning. I started my work with artificial intelligence when I was a teenager. I read a lot of books about AI, and I was disappointed by its impracticality. We need to know much more about the brain and human behaviour before we can build functional AI. This understanding compelled me to pursue a PhD in Psychology.

I conducted neuroscience research and studied the brain but always with the intent of building better AI. I kept asking the question, what does the brain have that machine learning tools don’t? At a certain point, I felt like I had enough information and returned to AI in a professional capacity as a corporate consultant. It’s an unconventional career path; I don’t think anyone else has followed the same trajectory.

Have you come to any conclusions as to how artificial intelligence could be approached differently?

Yes, absolutely. I have developed a theory on how we should approach both understanding the brain and creating artificial intelligence. The theoretical knowledge that we use to explain how the brain creates human intelligence and human behaviour is similar to the principles of building AI. Human intelligence and machine intelligence go hand-in-hand. A breakthrough in one field is a breakthrough in both.

My theory, the theory of practopoiesis revolves around the idea that our current understanding of the brain is incomplete, and our ongoing study of the brain applies to a better understanding of AI.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Almost Human - The Challenges of Building Emotionally Intelligent AI
Image via GettyImages

Popular perceptions of AI range from humanoid robots in sci-fi to the reality of our day-to-day experiences with chatbots and Alexa. Where do you see us on that spectrum?

There is a definite discrepancy between sci-fi, where we have robots that are almost human, and what we have today in Siri. Perhaps the most significant discrepancy, however, is between what Siri can do today and what might be possible in the near future. Bridging this gap fuels the work that I do. One thing is certain – we’re not going to be able to do it with the technologies we have today. We have a long way to go before we reach what I refer to as ‘biological intelligence’.

What impact do you see this having on the private sector?

That remains to be seen. It’s very hard to tell in the early stages of any technology where it will be applied most effectively in the future. When the computer was invented, for example, nobody could predict the extent to which we use it today. Excel sheets, word processors, video conferencing and smartphones were unforeseeable. They just knew it was going to be big.

The same is true for AI. We have a technology that’s getting more powerful every day. Many people are attempting to implement AI in different ways, so it is both useful and profitable. Nobody knows who will succeed and what the practical applications could be.

Regarding my work as the Head of AI at savedroid, we are creating a machine that will automatically build savings portfolios for cryptocurrencies. It’s still early, but it looks like we are getting somewhere.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Almost Human - The Challenges of Building Emotionally Intelligent AI
Image via GettyImages