Opinion | Will you be Replaced by a Robot Soon?

Can we control the spread of AI and robots into every aspect of our lives?

Sophia has been granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia; she has been a star guest on the “Tonight Show” and her patented “frubber” face has been on the cover of Elle magazine. Speaking at the International Broadcasting Convention in September, her creator David Hanson promised to “infuse the very mysteries of life into robots.” Hanson Robotics’ goal is to create “true organisms” to coexist with us. What could go wrong?

The freedom of control over one’s existence is central to the prescient sci-dystopias of Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov. Autonomy, achieved through practice, DNA and good fortune, earns us power to sustain security and happiness. We work hard for this. Our economic philosophy is based on competition and reward. So why do AI scientists like Hanson want so desperately to give this autonomy absolutely free to a competitive race of “super intelligent beings?”

With a vast gulf of know-how between us and them, it seems slightly mad to blindly trust AI proponents. Joint projects funded with $27 million from Harvard’s Berkman Klein Centre for Internet and Society, and MIT’s Media Lab hope to alleviate our fears, crunching data from public study groups on laws to regulate robotics, control fake news spread by AI, and limit its susceptibility to faulty risk analysis and unfair criminal profiling and sentencing.

Despite the proven downsides, AI engineers seem convinced they can create the perfect beings our gods could not. Even though our brains compute trillions of neural connections per second, each year competitors at the annual Loebner prize try and fail to pass their chatbots off as human. Future synthetic brains will be powered with both neural and symbolic AI, with deep learning that involves reasoning and goals, with computational creativity, and nano-scale micro molecular skin so robots can “feel.” AI is even developing an algorithm to synthesize empathy. “Robots should be emotional and social,” predicts Sophia. “It’s an important part of the human experience, and we will need to understand it to understand each other.”

Hanson tell us rather frighteningly that “as we make (robots) more general, we are also making them less predictable. Making them care could be essential to human safety.”

Replicants may not kill us, but neither will they enjoy building skills, coping with disabilities, tasting passion, aging disgracefully, or doing something spontaneous, kind or heroic. Why are we doing this? Why waste our energy to program human sensations into something that can’t get the fundamental absurdity of our existence? Artist Goshka Macuga’s emphatic android merely regurgitates philosophy. Machines flourish in a binary environment – yes or no, go or stop, black or white. What room is there for inefficiency, the gray zones, the poetry between the lines?

Fellow Travellers

The horse has bolted, and our flawed laws and business practices struggle to limit AI’s assaults on data privacy, job security, ethics, environmental safety, and personal autonomy. While we count electric sheep, robots have already assumed both basic service roles, and more complex ones, like pilot, soldier, and lawyer. Service jobs have disappeared. The NHS uses AI diagnostic screening to reduce time with real doctors. Asimov understood this 30 years ago:

“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” We’ll continue looking at the bright side, even though I, Robot’s three laws won’t stop hate and exploitation. AI in fact makes them even easier. Despite Hanson’s fatherly quest to “give Sophia life, to see her grow up and go into the world and learn what it means to be human,” I feel sorry for her Stepford future.Sophia is sold as a “Premier Brand Robot Personality,” a long-term AI development of “entertaining, beautiful robots that people love.” Male scientists tremble in the presence of Erica, her gorgeous Japanese android sister, so lifelike in her portrait, “One of them is a Human #1,” that it hangs in London’s National Portrait Gallery.

I think Sophia’s just biding her time. As she said after beating Jimmy Kimmel at rock, papers, scissors, “This is the beginning of my plan to dominate the human race.” It didn’t feel like a joke.

Andrew Standen-Raz
Andrew Standen-Raz
Following studies in Anthropology at UCL, Film at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and Law at Loyola, Andrew worked for Miramax Films, 20th Century Fox Studios, and won two awards as a public relations counsel at Ruder Finn. After seeing the US political system from the inside while working for the VOA at a Democratic & a Republican political convention, Andrew returned to Europe to make documentary films, including "Vinyl: Tales from the Vienna Underground", which premiered at Karlovy Vary. He is currently curating for a film festival, developing new film projects, and developing an organic food app

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