FROM ROBOT TO REAL BOY


In the fairy tale “Pinocchio” a little wooden puppet dreams of becoming a real boy. Many stories in science fiction deal with androids becoming human by discovering emotions, growth of knowledge and even having dreams. However, how realistic are these ideas? Is it at all possible for man to create an Android that will some day work alongside us looking as human as Bishop from “Aliens”?

Last week I spoke about sci-fi’s impact on the development of robotics. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the realities in the advancements of machine learning. While it is pretty cool to see robots develop and move closer to the images we see and read in science fiction, the reality is they are not as advanced as, say, C3PO.

In Isaac Asimov’s “I,Robot series, Asimov gave us the Three Laws of Robotics. The Three Laws are:

This cover of I, Robot illustrates the story &...Zeroth 
Image via Wikipedia
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws. *
Asimov created a fourth law, called the Zeroth law which states:
  •  A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.*

Now, realistically, these laws would be too basic to keep an Artificial Intelligence in check.  There is the argument that robots, while programmed by man, should still be considered alien. Ryszard Michalski, was the Director of the Center for Discovery Science and Health Informatics at George Mason University. He was also the Director of the GMU Machine Learning and Inference Laboratory. Michalski posited that because an A.I. was, in essence, alien, it should be considered dangerous to humans. It is believed that it’s impossible to truly know what logical conclusions an A.I. will reach. Human logical is tempered by emotion and circumstance.  An A.I. won’t have such constraints integrated into its thinking.

In sci-fi, authors tend to anthropomorphise machines. Last week, I mentioned “Data” from “Star Trek: The Next Generation“. One of the sub-plots of the series deals with Data attempting to attain a state of human emotional being. He is eventually given an “Emotion Chip” by his creator, Noonien Soong. However, during the movie “Star Trek Generations” he installs the chip and ends up experiencing fear at a very inopportune time. He ends up realizing that he needs to leave the chip at home whenever he goes on a mission.

Researchers in Europe are working to teach a robot to simulate emotions in response to humans. Nao, is a humanoid robot created by Aldabaran Robotics. He was created as a research bot so that engineers and scientists can create robots as companions to humans. At this point, robots are being taught to respond based on specific parameters. However, no one has yet figured out how to program a robot with actual emotions that are generated by circumstance.
Cover of "Bicentennial Man"
Cover of Bicentennial Man

Will robots ever become as “human” as Sonny from the movie adaptation “I, Robot”, Data or Andrew Martin from”Bicentennial Man”? It is doubtful. There are many things about humanity that scientists have yet to understand. Because of this, they will not be able to transplant those humanistic qualities into a machine. But we can continue to imagine the possibilities.

* Taken from Wikipedia: used by permission.

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