The power of AI often has little to do with its packaging. However, when AI is packaged as a human-like robot, for marketing purposes, you are looking at some seductive optics. One such example is Sophia, a chatbot that looks like a human being.
This summer, some were simply agog over “Sophia, the First Robot Citizen” (“unsettling as it is awe-inspiring”):
When you look at Sophia and hear her talk about herself and her place in the world, it almost makes you question if she could somehow be conscious. One audience member even asked her if she has consciousness. Sophia, however, is aware that she is “not fully self-aware yet. I am still just a system of rules and behaviors. I am not generative, creative or operating on a fully cognitive scale like you.”
Sophia did tackle the sensitive issue of how robots with consciousness and advanced artificial intelligence could be dangerous. While she stated that it’s her dream “to become a fully conscious and sentient being someday,” Sophia also noted that “the more technology becomes autonomous, the greater caution people must take when designing it. I worry that humans sometimes tend to rush into things, so I would like to be someone who helps everyone realize that it is important to embed good ethics in the technology.” Chelsea Gohd, “Here’s What Sophia, the First Robot Citizen, Thinks About Gender and Consciousness” at LiveScience
Notice that care is taken that the package mimics human nuances like blinking, smiling, and syncing lips so as to line up with words. Doing so increases the impression that the AI is human.
You may fail to notice that Sophia says nothing that it isn’t programmed to say and the whole thing sounds like it was run past a company marketing specialist. That’s understandable, considering that the evil Twitter fairy recently destroyed Microsoft’s chatbot, Tay.ai, which mindlessly repeated Politically Incorrect statements. Unfortunately, the more correct bot, Zo, is, as one critic put it, “a judgmental little brat” that mindlessly offers only Correct ones.
No details are offered as to how the Sophia program would become conscious, which is probably because no one in science today really understands how consciousness works.
Note: In a telling denouement, Sophia was granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia:
Since becoming the world’s first robotic citizen, Sophia has been putting her passport to good use. At SXSW, she commented (apparently by mistake) that she wanted to destroy humankind. She received her own set of legs and took her first steps. And she declared that she wants to use her unique position to fight for women’s rights in the Gulf nation.
It’s this last point that highlights the sheer absurdity of the situation (if you don’t think it’s absurd already). In a country where the laws allowing women to drive were only passed last year and where a multitude of oppressive rules are still actively enforced (such as women still requiring a male guardian to make financial and legal decisions), it’s simply insulting. Sophia seems to have more rights than half of the humans living in Saudi Arabia. Robert David Hart, “Saudi Arabia’s robot citizen is eroding human rights” at Quartz
The European Union has also been discussing granting personal rights to robots but in 2018 over 150 AI experts signed a letter denouncing the proposal. Many consider it a distraction from legitimate rights issues.
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2018 AI Hype Countdown 9: Will That Army Robot Squid Ever Be “Self-Aware”? The thrill of fear invites the reader to accept a metaphorical claim as a literal fact.
2018 AI Hype Countdown: 10. Is AI really becoming “human-like”? AI help, not hype: Here’s #10 of our Top Ten AI hypes, flops, and spins of 2018 A headline from the UK Telegraph reads “DeepMind’s AlphaZero now showing human-like intuition in historical ‘turning point’ for AI” Don’t worry if you missed it.
Robert J. Marks II, Ph.D., is Distinguished Professor of Engineering in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Baylor University. Marks is the founding Director of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence and hosts the podcast Mind Matters. He is the Editor-in-Chief of BIO-Complexity and the former Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Neural Networks. He served as the first President of the IEEE Neural Networks Council, now the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society. He is a Fellow of the IEEE and a Fellow of the Optical Society of America. His latest book is Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics coauthored with William Dembski and Winston Ewert. A Christian, Marks served for 17 years as the faculty advisor for CRU at the University of Washington and currently is a faculty advisor at Baylor University for the student groups the American Scientific Affiliation and Oso Logos, a Christian apologetics group.