Robots like us? Pt 5 - Becoming Gods

Throughout the series of posts on robots like us, I have not really touched on robotics at all, and that is because the technical details can be engineered and made to be corrrect, our attitudes and philosiphies cannot.

But there is a set of more important lessons to be learnt from this exercise. As someone who builds software I understand a very fundamental advantage that we are gainaing by building robots and A.Is just like us.

If we build arms, legs, lips and brains from the ground up, the human will not be such a mystery anymore. We have an oppurtunity to build ourselves. And therein lies the opportunity to understand ourselves.

And I'm not just talking about how neurons fire, or how we balance. The more important lessons are about how we think. One of the many things about society that bothers me is that we don't know how to fix people when their minds are broken. Murderers have broken minds. Rapists, child molesters and drug addicts too. We see their actions as deplorable, and we cannot see ourselves doing these things. When we understand how the mind works, we can start to heal these people instead of throwing them into a dark hole and trying to forget our failures as a society.

We can start to understand our moral frameworks. Why we believe in Gods, why we love, hate and envy. All just by watching the virtual minds that we have created working suffering from the same defficiencies inherent to us.

If you have any doubt on why there should be robots like us, think about the qualities that are rare in humans. One of these qualities is sometimes even humanity itself. In some situations we lack it. Maybe the more clever ones among us will have a chance to not only build robots that are like us and better than we are, but to fix us, and to make us a better species.

To shape its own destiny is the highest calling of any species. If we can attain this feat we will become Gods because the sign of being god is never needing god to give structure to a universe that seems random.

Robots like us? Pt 1 - The why?

I thought I would write a little about robotics. Robots fascinate me, especially their our relationships with them. How do they fit in?

Robots already play a vital role in our world. They do things that are either mind-numbingly boring and repetitive or things that require millimeter level accuracy or immense speed. Currently we are comfortable with robots from a philosophical point of view. Robots today act like elderly handicapped children with severe brain damage. We understand why, we nod, smirk and consider the silly robot.

That is not to say that this is not changing, and faster than we as a society will be able to adjust. If we can imagine a world where a robot could do what we do, act like we do, and be indistinguishable from us, there are several questions that need to be raised, and several eyebrows that will go with them.

The first and foremost question is on why we need robots that look like us in the first place. A roomba robot can vacuum the floor without looking like a human right? But it can't climb stairs! Ok. Ok. Let's give it a stair lift! No... wait! Lets give it some legs. Yeah that will work. But to walk properly it can't only have legs. To walk properly it will need counterweights on an upper body to balance it. Oh kinda like arms then? Yes... I guess so.

I'm not going to drag that paragraph out any more. I think I have made my point. Evolution has given the human form the greatest flexibility. There is no other animal that is such a good all rounder as a human. And if your roomba has arms, it can pick up your dirty laundry and do other cool stuff too. It just doesn't make sense to have 50 different robots in your home when you can have one that can do it all.

The second question will be how we frame humanoid robots in our world. At first they will not be as clever as we are. How are we to treat them? If we treat them with respect it seems unnatural because they are just machines. It would be like asking your toaster nicely not to burn your toast. If you treat them badly you will feel bad because of the human form of the robot. But this is in the case of human-like robots. Robots that just kind of look like humans, but aren't really there yet.

The deeper question is this. If robots looked and behaved like we do, would we treat them differently? Would this not be the same as racism or sexism? When do you classify something as being self-aware? When does something become someone? When does it have rights, priveleges and opinions?

I Will leave with that thought. What I really want to explore towards the end of this series of posts that I am writing, is that we have something very special with robots, something that is deep and will touch society as a whole.

Robots like us? Pt 2 - Touchy feely

Society has so many generally accepted misconceptions. One of them, and this is a good one, is that emotions hamper our ability to make good decisions.

I Wish this was  my original thought, and I'm referencing quite loosely here, but Stephen Pinker in his book "How The Mind Works" reasons that emotions help us to make important decisions that we would not be able to make otherwise. I am at least in partial agreement, but my belief is that emotions are the only reason why society does not plunge into chaos. Emotions are the only reason why we can live in a society, and work towards a common goal. Emotions are also the reason why we dont just do the bare minimum, or why we don't engage in dangerous activities.

Fear, love, hate, envy,  jealousy, empathy. If you sit down and think of all these emotions and contextualise them in a social setting, you will realise that emotions are designed to be maximally beneficial to you first, and then to your kin. It is designed has evolved in an ingenious way to protect us from being exploited, but to help us to extend alltruism to our kin.

With such an ingenious system such as emotion, we should use it when building intelligent robots.

Robots need to live in a society. They will interact with us and other robots. Without emotions they will be limited by rule based systems like the three laws of robotics, dreamt up by Isaac Asimov. 

From wikipedia:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
I do not for one second question the genius of the three laws, but they cannot work. Emotions offer a better all round package, and I think Asimov was fully aware of this.

An example of a ruleset based on emotions:
1. I will not harm, for I fear reprisal
2. I will love, because I want love back
3. I will help, because I may need help later
4. I will reciprocate, because I am thankful

An emotional system is so simple, but if I had to draw up every single rule it would take quite a while. The addition of rules occurred during evolution.  A moral rule system is built on the cornerstones of incentives and disincentives. What looks and feels natural to us is just the ultimate algorithm for succesful social interaction. It is so succesful that we are to able function not just as small tribal societies, but as a massive global society.

We know of course that not all members of society play fair, and that not all people have the correct emotional response system (see asshole).  We also know that personalities change based on personal experiences, and it is not just emotions, but it is this plasticity of personality that makes us such a successful social species.

Emotions are not a side effect, or some negative force guiding us into self destructive behaviour. It is an overriding force for good that protects us from others, and others from us. This all happens without even trying. If we are going to give robots emotions surely there must be good reasoning behind it. Emotions are after all one of the reasons we like computers. They don't have any. When you ask it to do something it does it without protest. If we are going to give robots and computers emotions, maybe they should work a little differently.