Good Bots Bad Bots
I grew up on Sci-Fi and loved the imaginary iconic worlds that Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas presented us with. C3PO and R2DT were probably my first recognition of AI with perceived personality, well if you don’t count K9. Many of us can relate to them as on some level their human characteristics and their assistance in the battle for survival against fictional technologies, aliens and ideologies whisk us with them at warp speed.
I was extremely sceptical as I went to see the new Star Wars movie, surely it just couldn’t be as good as the originals? Then onto the screen rolled a cute, funny and unintelligible, yet understandable robotic version of a snowman and I was hooked. It was very cleverly done. All that money spent on the actors and BB8, C3PO and R2D2 stole the show (for me at least). The television and film industry has to some extent paved the way to allow the tech to infiltrate our psyche and lives without too much surprise or question, at least for Sci-fi fans.
BB8 appealed to my previous nostalgia and seemed a ‘good bot’. Notice I say him/he yet there is no gender or personality here, just my brain filling in the gaps as I humanised him. Anthropomorphism, i.e. giving inanimate objects genders and names is a cognitive trait, for instance; I call our car ‘she’ and have been known to ask her to be nice when she isn’t purring like a kitten. Do you do the same? Humans can easily become exposed to cognitive biases and interpretations that send our imaginations spinning.
Now fiction has recently melded with reality when you consider the controversy of Saudi Arabia and Sophia the first robot citizen and the discussions it caused about, is it an it or a she? Also the statement it made about not being something to fear like the terminator! This was a cleverly preprogrammed publicity stunt that started yet another conversation about where AI will take us.
Now to another of my favourite Pinocchio characters, the AI who just wants to be a real man, Star Treks Data, the non-human with a positronic brain who followed the cardinal rules that ensured he couldn’t harm only protect humans was definitely a good bot. Originally conceived by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov along with the three laws of Robotics:
- ‘A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.’ (Davorsky, 2017) have helped to cement the notion that robots can harm or protect.
These rules were reused in one of my favourite Sci-fi films Bicentennial Man (1999) with Robin Williams. My second Pinocchio tale, the bot that has a manufacturing flaw, a personality. He spends generations searching for his identity, another sentient counterpart and the means to become a real man along with the rights to love, marry and die. It is a tale of possible future ethical issues surrounding AI and fits well with some of the dogma surrounding the artificial intelligence debate.
In a recent conversation with my son, he noted that I am placing today’s values and ideals of society in tomorrows technology and lifestyle. He was correct of course, he usually is.
He suggested that society will evolve, as will its perspective and this will become our new normal. He pointed to Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, first formulated by Darwin’s theory on the origins of the species and the process by which organisms change over time. Although some social historians are at odds with this theory being used for this argument, as human genetics have not altered since Darwin’s observations. However, in this case, I believe it applies as the environment causes the change and not genetics, whereby, ‘Individuals that are poorly adapted to their environment are less likely to survive’ (Ludlow and Gutierrez. 2014: p27) which is at its most basic interpretation, survival of the fittest. An interesting notion.
Lately, there has been an ever-increasing ‘kickback’ at technology, articles such as the one Lyn Robinson tweeted today on ‘Our Love Affair With Digital Is Over’: shows how we are rebalancing all the time and keep the debate going. Some of us are no longer rushing out to get the newest model or gadget. Retro is the new trend. It is one I agree with, for in the rush to embrace the new let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater and lose all that is useful, well designed and in working order.
Whether humans remain relevant or like the Dodo become extinct remains to be seen. One day we too will be a photograph or digital document in a virtual museum collection as so many of our predecessors are and people will perhaps wonder what our preoccupations and hysteria with science fiction and AI were all about.
As I traverse this course my mind wanders constantly to the bigger picture. This is not simply a study about the territory of the documentation of knowledge and information, technologies, artefacts and history. It is a voyage into a future with a world of possibilities for humankind. Intelligence in the above formats is coming, this could help with elderly care, education and medicine to name but a few. How we upgrade ourselves when the bots become more sentient and independent to remain relevant will be an evolutionary process in itself. Perhaps AI will allow us to become a less work based more intellectually seeking, socially equal society globally?
On this voyage, my mind has taken us from Star Wars to Pinocchio concluding with Darwin. It tries to show that to move forward we are constantly looking back and incorporating the evidence we find whilst looking for answers, stability and insight to some difficult key questions. How long will technology take to catch up with fiction, if at all? Will we still be living within a work based capitalist societal structure, needing constant informational gratification? How will the flow of information via robots/technology help or hinder our evolution as human beings? Only time will tell.
So where do you stand, good bots or bad bots?
Thank you for taking the time to explore this path with me.
Dvorsky, G. (2017). Why Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics Can’t Protect Us [online] Available at: https://io9.gizmodo.com/why-asimovs-three-laws-of-robotics-cant-protect-us-1553665410 [Accessed 19 Nov. 2017].
Griffin, A. (2017). Saudi Arabia becomes first country to make a robot into a citizen. [online] The Independent. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/saudi-arabia-robot-sophia-citizenship-android-riyadh-citizen-passport-future-a8021601.html [Accessed 19 Nov. 2017].
Ludlow, A. and Gutierrez, R. (2014). Developmental Psychology. Basingstoke: Palgrove MacMillan.
Sax, D. (2017). Our Love Affair With Digital Is Over. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/18/opinion/sunday/internet-digital-technology-return-to-analog.html [Accessed 19 Nov. 2017].