Writing Exercise: Can robots ever be human?

The Terminator in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

The Terminator in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

I realize this topic is as incredibly deep and complex as it is general. I will start this by stating that I am not in robotics nor do I work with artificial intelligence. I have never even studied it. I am a man who is very interested in concepts and logic. I enjoy in delving into the overlying principles of things. My opinions on this are not fact and they possibly aren’t even close. Do not be offended. If my writing makes you think and feel, whether it is an introspective “I haven’t thought of that” or an angry “Is this guy an idiot?!?”… I have done my job.

Robots are a strong theme in American culture. They evoke a wide array of emotions from us. Many of us find them interesting. I loved the show Battlebots. I love having the newest, sleekest technology. I love that my phone can use simple algorithms to predict things I want to do. I am an absolute nut for predictions and analysis. Heck, I even have a scale that links to an online profile so I can see exactly how my weight is fluctuating. Give me a shiny piece of technology that syncs through WiFi or Bluetooth and presents its information in colorful bar and line graphs and I’ll be your best friend. These machines or robots are created to analyze us and assist us. They are getting smarter and we have long been past the point where our phones know more about us than we do. In some instances, our phones can probably predict what we will do before we know it. While computers (I’ll generally use that term here) are getting better and better at knowing us, that leads to another emotion we have towards robots:

Fear.

Americans have many fascinating obsessions. We glorify ninjas and pirates and have made ridiculous versions of them that never existed. We drool over superheroes who have seemingly plausible “origin stories” but are obviously impossible if you give it any amount of thought. We love orcs, mages, and elves despite there never being an instance of any of them in history. We equally are fascinated by the idea of robots, but unlike the others, robots are real. Robots are here. As many movies and video games there are that portray good robots who help us fight an enemy (usually other robots), there are just as many that feature robots that kill us. Usually the narrative is the same. We keep making technology better until we reach a point where AI has the ability to achieve free will. At this moment, AI is not a program anymore. It has consciousness. It doesn’t necessarily “feel” but it can make its own decisions and that turns for the worst when that is coupled with the intelligence, processing speed, and ability to essentially recall any memory in its storage in nanoseconds. These advanced robots then always go through some change that causes them to turn on humanity. Sometimes their coding just glitches. Sometimes an evil mastermind “rewires” them. Sometimes the perfect beings just realize how flawed humans are and decide to get rid of all of us. What makes this fear rational is that this could possibly happen down the road. For whatever reason, these robots are usually made into the shape of a human. This brings me to my actual point.

In this exercise, I’m not discussing if we will be mass-exterminated by a robot in the future. We are nowhere near that point. However, as computers get smarter and more knowledgeable of us, people have undertaken the task of trying to get them to emulate us. The question is: Will there a be a day where robots look and act like humans? Will you be able to bump into a stranger out in public, have a conversation, and then be shocked 10 minutes in when that stranger informs you that it is a robot? Many people say no, but there are also those who believe the answer is yes so strongly, they have dedicated their lives to it. I will not say no as the future is a long time, but I will say we are nowhere close.

The issue is that from an artificial intelligence standpoint, humans are perfectly imperfect. We are irrational and we act on impulse. We will actually make a terrible decision with no thought or research, but then we have the capability to amend the mistake and still get the job done. There are many times that humans will actually do research and then still make a mistake because of an unforseen variable. Humans have embraced the ever-present possibility of mistakes. Jobs have policies for getting stuck in traffic. Companies have insurance for people hurting themselves while performing work. Humans are irrational, but not random. We will do everything we’re supposed to do, then in a moment of rage, break a $500 cell phone. Computers are efficient and would never do these things.

The next step would obviously be teaching the robots to emulate us. This would not be easy to do since they do not have emotions. You could program a robot to emulate the average human, but then have it rarely do random acts, but this is not even close to being the same. I think watching a robot pretending to be human would be like watching a fake viral video on the internet. I would bet that every day, hundreds of companies try to fake videos where something ridiculous happens in public. They stage events that are cute, romantic, or dangerous. They sit in meeting rooms and analyze other viral videos. Many of them probably even have focus groups to test how believable they are. No matter the process, most of them hit the internet and are ignored. The problem is that real viral videos happen naturally. We can tell when a video is faked/staged because it just seems unnatural to us… It seems inhuman. You could strap a GoPro camera on a thousand people’s heads and then upload that footage into a robot and it still would be emulating humans. The robot needs to feel, think, and act on impulse for it to be believable. It needs to be human. We are nowhere close.

I find this entire process scary. Using programs and algorithms to assist us has progressed society to new heights. Things have become cheaper and easier. We can digitally film and edit. We can make complex spreadsheets in a window that would have taken an entire wall of a conference room to draw out. We can instantaneously mail each other through the internet. The list of things technology has provided us would be a mile long, but how far do we need to go? Why do we need robots walking around pretending to be human and acting like us? I don’t agree with making humanoid robots to complete certain tasks, but I see the purpose (I think the implications toward jobs would be horrible). I don’t see the purpose of making human robots that do everything we do and that pretend to be us. That’s another issue, however.

As the future comes, we will undoubtedly reach higher levels of technology. Processors will get better. Memory will better. Storage will get better. There will be a point where things like androids will be a possibility. I just don’t think we’re anywhere close to that right now.

Thanks for reading my random fit of writing inspiration.

-Marty

Advertisements