In the middle of Chapter 5, Patchett describes how Gen, even though being a genius, is at a loss when it comes to using his own words. Shortly after the author says “It had occurred to him in his life that he had the soul of a machine and was only capable of motion when someone else turn the key”. This sparked my interest in robotics, specifically sentient machines. I began researching the most advanced robotics on the market, and came across Asimo. The name stands for Advanced, Step, Innovative, Mobility, It is a robot being developed by Honda that can walk, climb stairs, had advanced agility and mobility, state of the art sensors, and can also communicate. In the sources will be a video link to watch. Its intention is to be used as a service robot to help people. The project has been ongoing since the 80’s when Honda was first trying to get the machine to actually walk, and now in 2015 it can play sports! I came across other robot known as Valkyrie, which is a project being developed by NASA. It pretty much looks like a superhero robot, which was its design intention. Its actual function is to be an autonomous machine that can take care of systems on the orbiting international space station.
Even though these robots are extremely advanced for their kind, they do not possess the qualities of self-consciousness. What we would call an artificially generated intelligence. Our friends at google however are actually investing in computers that will eventually be able to do just that. The director of Google, Ray Kurzweil, believes in what he calls the singularity, where artificial intelligence will overcome human intelligence. That by the year 2029, robots will be able to do all the things human beings can do, only better. This doesn’t bode too well for the economy, especially as a lot of corporations are seeking cost effective routes by making their production and services all automated. There is a Japanese hotel opening this year in Nagasaki that will have no human workers. Everything will be automated and you will be greeted and your luggage will be carried to your rooms by a service bot. These robots have been made to look extremely humanistic, and can even respond with gestures and the proper facial expressions. I thought this was quite odd, but I came across a study in the 90s where people were responding to questions from a software that was to mimic how a human would communicate. The results were extremely profound, as many of the people started feeling emotional and even asked for the observers to leave to have a personal conversation with the software, as if it were a person. It is theorized that with enough software and advancement, you would not be able to distinguish in the future whether someone was a person or a robot as our brains pick up on these social cues that can be replicated via software.
In the book, “The Shallows”, by Nicholas Carr who is an avid writer on technology and culture, brings up biologists who discuss how the view of intelligence, or what makes us alive isn’t just about how much information can be processed. The authors discusses how there is a misconception in the greater population, that if you create a computer that can process more and more information, that eventually it will become sentient. Completely misunderstanding how the human brain works. What makes us who we are is how our brains operate, how it experiences the world, how it stores memory and emotion, and how it learns. This can be externally replicated with software, but it wouldn’t create a being that is sentient. Carr puts a great example where let’s say you create a file on the computer, and then you delete it, and then you create it again. It’s pretty much the exact same file. You compare that to the human equivalent, where let’s we learn something, and we don’t look at it for a time, and then we refresh ourselves with it. The human brain that learned that idea is different and processes the relearned information differently, while the computer puts the file exactly as it was the first time. The brain is such a complicated organ and even though it processes a ton of information, what makes us what we are is how the brain interacts with each piece of information and relates it to other pieces.
Even though Carr states a good argument against how robots will not be sentient like we are, he has a bias which came up while reading that I would like to discuss further. He takes on the assumption that sentience is only a characteristic that can exist within humans. Such an assumption I think limits our perspectives, as it is quite selfish to judge what existence can only be based on a single dominant species. There are many other animal species on earth which have exhibited qualities which we have taken for granted, such as the lively social communities within our chimpanzee relatives. It is also common in other mammalian species like dolphins and animals like crows have been shown to exhibit intelligent capabilities. Every time we take a closer look at the animal kingdom, and I will quote the anthropologist Jane Goodall, “We find animals doing things that we, in our arrogance, used to think was just human”. Could it be possible to create sentient beings based on machinery to in a sense mimic the human brains form of understanding the world? Yes, some scientists believe it is possible to create a synthetic counterpart of the human brain, however, they would experience the world differently from humans, and they would be alive in a completely different sense that is ignorant to us as certain spectrums of light are ignorant to our retinas. They would be new life. So in a sense, Carr was right, they will not be sentient, not sentient like *we are*.
This idea of creating artificial intelligence comes with several arguments from both sides of the spectrum. Something machines should become intelligent to solve problems without the need of human intervention. Other state that creating such beings would be unethical, as it would be mistreatment of a group of beings forced into slave labor so to speak. It brings up new questions about what it means to be a sentient being, and what other forms of existence there can be. Homo Homo sapiens have existed on earth for about 200,000 years, and our universe is calculated to be around 13.7 billion years old. The universe was already 8 billion years old before our star even fused into existence. Who is to say we are the measure of what it means to be alive and sentient, when there could be beings across the stars that have existed far longer than we have and who also experience the universe as well. These beings, most likely being composed of a different arrangement of life would have a perspective of existence completely alien to our own. But to them, they may feel just as much “alive” and “aware” in their own right as we do. People use the word sentience and humanity synonymously, extending the idea of other beings having a human consciousness, when perhaps sentience is not a state of being only the human species can hold.
Ackerman, Evan. “NASA JSC Unveils Valkyrie DRC Robot.” Spectrum. Accessed October 1, 2015.http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/military-robots/nasa-jsc-unveils-valkyrie-drc-robot
Cadwalladr, Carol. “Are the Robots about to Rise?” The Guardian. Accessed October 1, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/feb/22/robots-google-ray-kurzweil-terminator-singularity-artificial-intelligence.
Bridge, Adrian. “Robots to Serve Guests in Japanese Hotel.” The Telegraph. Accessed October 1, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/asia/japan/11387330/Robots-to-serve-guests-in-Japanese-hotel.html
Zeidner, Moshe, Gerald Matthews, and Richard D. Roberts. 2009. What we know about emotional intelligence: how it affects learning, work, relationships, and our mental health. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Carr, Nicholas G. 2011. The shallows: what the Internet is doing to our brains. New York: W.W. Norton.
Artificial intelligence. n.d. [Amsterdam]: Elsevier Ltd. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00043702.
Video of ASIMO: