The other night I got into a conversation with my woman regarding the possibility of an artificial intelligence (AI) achieving self-awareness and a level of cognition matching/surpassing that of a human being. Us having debates is interesting because if often turns into a war of the apples & oranges; I have a boundless imagination but often argue about subjects which I have little training or practical knowledge in. She, on the other hand is a much more nuts & bolts (lol, nuts) scientist type and is quick to shoot down my more fanciful ideas as implausible. However, since the debate was a philosophical, hypothetical and robot-related one, all of her training in biology gave her only the slightest edge.
As is the case with many conversations, this one started at dinner. She had made me Moroccan stir-fry and I was suddenly compelled to ask her if she had heard about the field of teledildonics (perhaps it was the sensuous shapes of the veggies I was eating). For those who don’t know, Wikipedia defines teledildonics as “electronic sex toys that can be controlled by a computer to reach orgasm.” Predictably, she scrunched her face at this concept, claiming it was weird and unnatural among other criticisms. What struck me most was her insistence that another person was key for fulfilment. Ever the
deviant open-minded one in the relationship, I put to her a hypothetical scenario in which a sufficiently advanced AI existed and controlled these sex toys or even inhabited a totally life-like android body.
In this situation she still felt that even if the AI had emotions and could learn and empathize, such interaction was not quite kosher. But I had great difficulty in getting her mind to even make that leap that such an AI could exist in the first place. It was at this point that the conversation ceased to be about the relative merits of fucking robots and began to be about the plausibility of a super-intelligent AI.
Now many of you have probably heard about the idea of the technological singularity (If you haven’t, do some homework: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity). I had read up on it about a year ago and found myself very interested in the predictions futurists have made about the manner in which the machines will become self-aware. My main argument the other night was that regardless of our feelings about intelligent machines we have to accept that they will exist eventually whether we like it or not, and we would do good to embrace them as friends rather than to treat them with suspicion and caution from the outset. Some of you might recognize this position as similar if not identical to my thoughts regarding how we should treat other people. If the AI is sentient, why not? Expect better and people & artificial intelligences (sic) might surprise you.
My woman found this prospect (and my habit of referring to the machines casually as “them”) odious, and made some interesting remarks. Some highlights were:
-“I wouldn’t want them living among human beings like they were the same as us.”
-“They’re not human; they can’t feel.”
-“They’re not the same as us.”
Listening to these refusals to acknowledge a sentient machine as life, I said that many people have voiced these protests before her, except in previous cases “they” referred to homosexuals, blacks, Jews, etc.
She REALLY didn’t like this comparison but I thought it illustrated an interesting point. I could understand her denying a sentient machine’s humanity, insofar as humanity referred specifically to homo sapiens from the planet Earth, but I couldn’t agree with it. I especially could not co-sign her refusal of their status as life-forms simply because they were not biotic.