When meeting a new acquaintance, we like to know who we’re dealing with, right? For millennia, humanity has generally had little difficulty in that regard.
That’s all set to change, however.
In the process of watching and commenting upon the effects of the continuing robot revolution, I’ve been researching an aspect that appears to be inexorable: the push by some manufacturers to construct a Perfect Android (PA). For the record, my position is unequivocal: no robot should ever be made in humanity’s real image.
Fortunately, I’ve not found one PA ready for mass marketing yet; although, there are a number of Humanoid Robots (HR) either now on the market, or will be later in 2013. With few exceptions, I have no qualms with the use and integration of HR within society; they, like the humble computer, should prove to be of positive benefit to society as a whole; although, as with any technological change, there are always unforeseen consequences. When they happen – and they will – one fixes the fixable, dumps the dreck and moves on.
Constructing and marketing HR is a big job. The task for PA manufacturers, however, is much bigger, more complex and definitely more expensive. Hence, given what I’ve seen so far (and what you can read about already at this blog), I don’t expect to see any PA on the market soon. But I’m confident that such a machine will be doable by mid-century (even so, I still don’t want to see that machine manufactured).
So, what’s so bad about any PA? Let me count the reasons…
First, a PA is a man-made machine masquerading as a real human. If it is a perfect image, you cannot distinguish it from a real human. In other words, it’s a con job. Who likes being conned?
Second, because a PA is a machine, composed of various metals, it is more durable than humans and capable of physically out-performing most, if not all humanity. Such a PA then is definitely stronger than humanity in many ways and thus moves into being a super con job.
Third, one of the goals within robotics is to develop human-like artificial intelligence (AI). AI, in and of itself, is a positive step because such a robot – be it in a mobile computer box or in a humanoid shape – would be able to solve problems more quickly than most humans, depending upon the elegance of the AI software. There is still a long way to go, however. (In fact, producing a robot with AI equivalent to or better than humanity’s is the biggest challenge in robotics.) Nevertheless, a PA with the best AI installed would then become a superior con job.
Quite simply, humanity doesn’t need that kind of triple whammy.
Granted, those three potential situations are just that: potential. But there is nothing to stop a manufacturer from producing a HR with similar physical and AI qualities as a PA – apart from appearance. Indeed, that is more likely to be the case, fortunately; because my research has already shown that the very idea of PA has caused much debate and concern already. And that’s a good outcome because any HR is designed to be always visibly non-human; think Asimo, C3P0, Robbie, Nestor etc.
Some will disagree, no doubt, about the need for some form of control. However, I would question the motivations of those who would deliberately seek to manufacture machines that, by design and appearance, will con unsuspecting, unaware humans.
Looking forward to mid-century and beyond, however, I think none of the foregoing will prevent some manufacturer developing a PA, eventually. Where there’s money involved, there are always those wanting to profit, regardless of consequences for humanity and society. Hence what’s needed now, or very soon, is a process to make sure any PA can be identified easily for what it is categorically: non-human.
Let me suggest a few ideas:
- Every PA must be programmed to introduce itself as robot (e.g. Hi, I’m Jack, and I’m a robot) in the first instance whenever it meets a new human. To cater for those humans with hearing problems, every PA must also show a clearly visible label with the word ROBOT (in the appropriate language of location), followed by a number, name or combination of both; OR
- The external temperature of every PA must be maintained at a temperature of 10C (50F), a bit more than half the normal temperature of humans. Hence, when touching a PA, the robot’s relative coldness will signify its robotics underpinnings. Moreover, if the cooling fails thus allowing temperature to rise, the programming must immobilize the machine; OR
- When asked by any human, vocally or with text (e.g. Are you robot?), a PA must admit its origin. Failure to admit that truth will result in programmed immobility immediately; OR
- Every PA must be dressed in clothes that clearly identify its robotic origins. This rule could be merged with any one of the above rules.
All of the above can apply to HR also, but not all are necessary for those machines, for obvious reasons. To allow for all contingencies, though, some combination of those ideas must be included into all robotic operating systems. Moreover, once programmed, the software must be locked in and rendered impenetrable to all viral and hacking attacks – no easy task, granted; but crucial for marketing success and reduced risk of looming legal issues.
Right now, those many legal and moral issues surrounding the whole robotics revolution are under debate. Technology always moves quickly, though resolution of legal and moral issues often tends to lag. Sure, we have already the Three Laws of Robotics which are generally accepted across the robotics industry as working guidelines for robot behavior vis-à-vis humanity’s welfare.
But humanity needs to know that all PA and HR are easily identifiable, one way or another, and with behaviors consistent with that need. We humans have necessarily developed means of mutual identification and acceptable behaviors over many years; it’s thus common sense to program all robots in a similarly appropriate fashion. Hence, I’d suggest a formal adoption of at least one or more of the ideas expressed above within the framework for all laws governing the manufacture and use of robots.
We’ve reached a point of no return with robotics. Society cannot function properly without trust and confidence in the machines produced and used. And when considering the history of the mobility revolution when the automobile was introduced, followed by the emergence of industrial automation and its effects, this third revolution in robotics will arguably completely surpass the trans-formative effects of the previous two combined, as it explodes globally.
We’d better be ready for it. Soon.