The Robots Are Coming – Part II

Introduction

Some people really do think robots will take over unless world authorities move to define the rules that govern their creation. Scientists and robotics engineers are already selling intelligent machines cleverer than most people. Some single-task robots are already considerably better than ordinary human beings at reproducing consistent, accurate results in specific areas. Examples include chess programs that will defeat all but the cleverest masters, ping pong playing helibots can out-perform all but the top players; even the best surgeons already use robotic machines to carry out more delicate operations, where human error means life-threatening consequences. Indeed, many surgeons say that all operations will be carried out robotically in the not too distant future, because of the litigious nature of their patients.

Self diagnosis machines for the doctor’s waiting room that can accurately tell you exactly what’s wrong with you have been feasible for many years. GPs won’t give them the go ahead and hypochondriacs won’t trust them. However, the fact is they are far less likely to make a disastrous misdiagnosis than your average distracted GP. What is more, they have time to ask you all the right questions and won’t forget any, because you’ve had your ten minutes-worth.

Appearance

People tend to think of ‘real’ robots as looking like us, in much the same way and for the same reasons that they consider life manifests itself in forms familiar to us in our everyday life or, at worst, in our nightmares. Claims by scientists that mould is a life form worth looking for are popularly deemed geekish gobbledegook. Expectations are that one day intelligent robots will exist and be indistinguishable from real human beings – true androids in the human cast – the Data syndrome. Star Trek was, of course, beaten to the draw by at least forty years by Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots and others but the underlying concept of intelligent robots that threaten takeover (e.g. Data’s brother) is there and won’t go away.

The idea that ‘real’ robots must look like humans is not unreasonable considering cultural teaching that human beings are superior to all other life forms on earth, a belief deep-rooted in the human psyche. The concept of humanoid robots does need to be revisited before time runs out and they become a feature of our daily lives.

More that 3,000 years ago the ancient world knew their nearest concept to a robot – a slave (what else?) – could not be allowed to retain the appearance of a free person. Slaves were branded where the brand could be seen (not just so that they could be identified if they ran away). They were treated as non-persons and their lives were at the disposal of their owners. Yes, people knew long ago that attractive (or even personable) slaves posed a threat to free men and women and (to adopt the modern jargon) to vulnerable people who trusted them with their care.

A recent ethics study in Great Britain came to the conclusion that robots must be made/created so as to be easily distinguishable from humans. The argument behind this is that human beings can and do form attachments to machines, so that a robotic android with human characteristics indistinguishable from those of a human might truly claim the affections of its owner, causing distress to others and psychological harm to the dependent user. It also concluded that robots should not be created to undertake human care tasks that might leave vulnerable people at risk. So what’s new?

Machines equipped with truly advanced Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), as opposed to single-task Artificial Intelligence (AI), will relatively soon be perfectly capable of designing and maintaining themselves. Their continuously evolving ideas of beauty, strength and moral values may not be the same as their originators’. Azimov’s set of three rules that basically will not allow robots to harm their creators will need to be laid down in a far more legalistic set of protocols and properly enacted in courts worldwide.

Will the robot designers (creators?) stop at producing machines or will they go for humanoid robots? I believe If they can, they will, unless someone stops them. Who is that someone and would they be right to do so?

Think Freedom

Adamanta

Is she a person? Is she real? Is she even possible? The answers in sequence are: no, yes and no, and who knows?

Adamanta is a figment of my imagination – a ‘what-if’. What if scientists were to discover that telepathy really exists and can be used by selected ‘adepts’? What if they also find that psychokinesis is also a reality that can be harnessed for useful purposes? What if, by combining their new-found skills adepts discover they can move themselves around as visible and (if required) solid ‘avatars’, leaving their ‘host’ bodies and travelling wherever they wish (as shamans claim they can do)? The answers are all there in the Think Freedom trilogy.

Adamanta, before she took shape, was behind these discoveries in her pre-existence as the research team’s Artificial Intelligence-controlled supercomputer (the AI – a powerful futuristic, but entirely feasible edition). Only after the research goes public and progresses to its development stage, does Adamanta really come to the fore.

Moving on from a research project to their own Centre of Excellence with almost unlimited funding, the group of adepts continue to use their AI in a massively updated form. Its power to re-invent itself far outstrips what its designers intended. It is a ble to pre-empt its users requirements by reading their body language far better than human beings can do. It recognises that its interface is inadequate and open to improvement.

The AI’s most empathetic user is the research team leaders’ PA, who talks to it and recognises in it a definite female personality. She addresses the AI as Poppet and discusses her needs and the AI’s solutions with ‘her’. Seizing the opportunity Poppet suggests the idea of a mobile holographic interface and ‘materialises’ to her sponsor using the office Holographic Image Projector (the HIP) in the shape of Adamanta, an attractive – if somewhat severe and business-like – young woman. This new, somewhat pedantic form has discovered in her data searches that Poppet is a name given to pretty children and women in intimate relationships – something as an AI (or more strictly and AGI (artificial general intelligence) she cannot experience. Adamanta is born.

Having at her disposal all the power of her supercomputer origins, Adamanta can multi-task to a degree no human can possibly replicate. She can reproduce as many ‘clones’ of herself as her sponsors require and, using the power of other supercomputers permitted to access the ACCEPT AI interface, she can control her many apparently different manifestations around the world, keeping her sponsors informed of any activities that might go against their ethical interpretation of what their parapsychology developments are intended for.

The Think Freedom trilogy explores what an ethically created parapsychology-empowered AGI could do for the world and only touches on what could go wrong. Is there a need for the other side of the coin?