Reality Bytes

If consciousness is, in fact, an outgrowth of our relationships … then I don’t see any barrier to robots developing a self awareness. And then what?

Sal Restivo Open Source

[Booked for Aired on Tuesday, Feb. 28]

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

robot

[Honda’s robot Asimo, serving coffee Divedi/Flickr]

As a culture that comfortably resides in cyberspace, that uses robots–in one form or another—every day, we are constantly toggling between two universes, one virtual, one real. Making this transition is easy; the hard part is distinguishing one world from the other. As we become more like robots, with our iPod and cell phone appendages—and as robots become more like us, in their capacity to communicate and to do our work, inevitably our notions of what it means to be human are challenged.

Psychologist Sherry Turkle has spent a career exploring human development in a digital age. Her essay on Edge, World Question Center, which inspired this show, raises all kinds of provocative questions.

What will it do to us? Do plans to provide relational robots to attend to children and the elderly make us less likely to look for other solutions for their care? When we see children and the elderly exchanging tenderness with robotic pets the most important question is not whether children will love their robotic pets more than their real life pets or even their parents, but rather, what will loving come to mean? If our experience with relational artifacts is based on a fundamentally deceitful interchange, can it be good for us? Or might it be good for us in the “feel good” sense, but bad for us in our lives as moral beings?

Sherry Turkle, Edge, World Question Center,”What is Your Dangerous Idea?”

In addition to studying the moral and emotional consequences of interacting with robots, Turkle also questions how this changes our definition of what is real.

After several generations of living in the computer culture, simulation will become fully naturalized. Authenticity in the traditional sense loses its value, a vestige of another time.

Sherry Turkle,Edge, World Question Center,”What is Your Dangerous Idea?”

This hour with Sherry Turkle, and others, is the second installment of our Dangerous Idea series. Do robots threaten our sense of uniqueness? Or do we use such devices as laptops, blackberry’s, and iPods to define who we are? Can another mode of existence become more real or powerful than ours? Does a robot have its own personality? Does a clone have it’s own identity? How do you define what is real—and what is unreal?

Sherry Turkle

Sherry Turkle is a clinical psychologist and a professor of Science, Technology and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Author: Life on the Screen: Identity in the age of the Internet, Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit

Geoff Nunberg

Linguist Geoff Nunberg teaches at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Information. He’s the author of Going Nucular and the forthcoming Talking Right.

He’s a frequent contributor to Fresh Air

[On the phone from California]

Sal Restivo

Sal Restivo is Professor of Sociology and Science Studies in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Aaron Lemon-Strauss

Arron Lemon-Strauss is the producer of Heddatron , an adaptation of Hedda Gabler with robots. The robots were deisgned by Cindy Jeffers and Meredith Finkelstein of Botmatrix.

Bob Hawkins

Bob Hawkins is a futurist who tracks the latest technology trends on his blog Robot Gossip

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  • Maybe robots are the answer to a world with declining human fertility?

  • cheesechowmain

    “Do robots threaten our sense of uniqueness?”

    I don’t believe so, but I’ve been wrong before.

    They can be viewed as tools that augment our interactions with the external world. Do you become more like a hammer or monkey-wrench because they provide the wonderful capability of leverage and gripping? I don’t think so. I think their inherent human qualities of comparison are similar to comparisons: Is an airplane a bird? Is a submarine a fish? Is a camera an eye? Etc. But, robots are a bit different to be sure because of how they can appear and how they can interact with us. So, I can buy into the idea we might feel threatened because of this, or if not threatened, just intrigued by the idea we’re are creating our usurpers.

    I would feel no less secure, but willing to concede, they could displace or share our intellectual food-chain position if we developed a way to endow them with something akin to an ontological or existential core. A simplified example: A robot with some stimulus-response capabilities and goal/problem solving programming maybe able to vacuum the floor, and accost the cat a bit in the process. Wonderful from a utilitarian perspective for us. It’s nature is to vacuum the floor, but we do not see novel interactions; let’s not consider the problem of behavior due to error. Moreover, a robot exhibits no activity for pondering why it would vacuum the floor and accost the cat. Or even to get another robot to vacuum the floor while it hangs out and relaxes. I’ll assume away notions embodied in things like the Turing Test on this, and say that getting a robot to have a goal of an ontology and work towards convincing a human that it has one is not really what I’m describing. This would not be what I would believe to be an intrinsic quality.

    BTW, I’m viewing this from a human-centric position which could be seen as chauvinism, but, that was how the question was presented. Much more to say about this, but I’ll wrap it up there.

    “After several generations of living in the computer culture, simulation will become fully naturalized. Authenticity in the traditional sense loses its value, a vestige of another time.”

    I can go down to my local market located at a very northern region of North America, in February, and buy some cherries, berries, and figs. This is strange because given the relationship between the cycles of the seasons and when these various plants and trees bear these types of fruit, this does not coincide conveniently with February where I live. Thus, in addition to simulation, distribution mechanisms and capital markets have been internalized/naturalized and caused us to lose some sense of time; seasonal time. There are many implications to this, which I’m disinclined to enumerate; don’t want to be a thread hog anymore than I have to be.

    There are a ton of other open issues involved here contemplate. And now, I’m off to read Sherry Turkle’s article you folks kindly posted. Maybe some of this is addressed there.

  • OK, here’s the link: http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_8.html

    Humans are already pretty good at “relational artifacts” witness the con men, illusionists, politicians, who with artful expressions or elaborately contrived strategems convince us they are acting in our best interest. Or to as H. P. Lovecraft says, invoke in us “the willing suspension of disbelief.”

    There is an evolutionary component to this. Being duped into forming alliances spreads some of the risk of survival. Empathizing is a minimalist alliance that is self-satisfying without too much commitment.

    Anthropomorphism is a perfect example of this. And dogs have survived precisely by taking advantage of this innate defect in the human psyche. But it’s less likely that humans will relate with earthworms or lichens or fungi.

    Questions for Prof. Turkle:

    1) How do recognition of “relational artifacts” differ from anthropomorphic tendencies.

    2) Is there a configuration of robot below which humans no longer recognize “relational artifacts?” Are there other species that can “relate” to these lower robots?

    2) Are there people who are immune to “relational artifacts”? Sociopaths or people with pathologies?

    3) Are there examples of robots that are evolving “relationally” based on interactions with other robots, humans or the environment? Or do they just get a little better at doing what they’re programmed to do, never pass on their genes and get recycled or go for scrap?

  • I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

  • alokemon

    Looking around on the bus, easily more than half of the passengers are either listening to their iPod or on their cell phones. We riders would rather communicate with our robotic appendages (which we know so well and which know us so well) than with our commuter brethren. I think it’d be worth exploring this price of progress from how it impacts interpersonal communication. To me, it seems like it devalues human contact by discouraging any departure from the familiar. To phrase it like a dangerous idea, Will communication as we know it become obsolete?

  • nother

    I’m a bartender. To pay the rent, I tend bar. I did it after the Navy and through college and I still do it while I try to fulfill my dream of working in documentaries and films that make a difference. As far as I’m concerned, many of the questions you port forth with this show can be summed up with the following:

    My vocation for many years now has been pouring liquid into a glass and putting it in front of people. I ask you, can a robot accomplish this simple task? Do you anticipate seeing a robot behind the bar of your favorite watering hole any time soon?

    The nuances of human interaction are what we crave. A Blackberry or a robot can not lean in with sincere interest when you want to divulge something important. A robot can not flash that crooked smile (that Lydon crooked smile) at you to convey a subtle irony. A robot will never ask that extra question when that extra question needs to be asked.

    Will this advent of technology change the “real� for me? What was real to me tonight?

    The orgy of laughter with three of my friends at the bar tonight. One of us pointed out a funny irony and we laughed, someone else added a spin to that irony and we laughed harder, two more quick clever comments and the laughter escalated to a kind shared ecstasy – between a few of the guys.

    A father and son came into the bar around 6:00 pm. Dad about 70, Son about 50. The son (a burly blue collar guy) engaged me instantly; it seemed to be easier for him than engaging his father (a surly man). We talked about guy things and eventually dad started to chime in with some old memories. The conversation became a circle. After a while I walked away from the bar and the son and dad begin to talk and laugh with each other. As they leave the bar a little later the son puts his hand on his dad’s arm and I hear, “did you have fun dad,� “yes,� came the reply.

    At the end of the night before I cash out, I lean on the bar and listen to the folk singer’s last song of the night,� Goodtime Charlie’s got the blues.� His worn grainy voice tells us, “Some got to win, some got to lose, goodtime Charlie’s got the blues.� As he sings he gives me a friendly wink and nod, I feel like I am Charlie, he is singing the song to me – could my ipod ever make me feel this feeling?

  • avecfrites

    Robots won’t replace humans. They will replace the lack of humans.

    That is, robots will prove very valuable filling voids, doing things that humans can’t do economically:

    – monitoring the health and location of lonely elderly people

    – guarding empty buildings

  • avecfrites

    Sorry, I posted the above before I was done…

    Robots won’t replace humans. They will replace the lack of humans.

    That is, robots will prove very valuable filling voids, doing things that humans can’t do economically:

    – monitoring the health and location of lonely elderly people

    – guarding empty buildings

  • avecfrites

    I give up… you get the drift.

  • avecfrites

    I’ll try yet again.

    Robots won’t replace humans. They will replace the lack of humans.

    That is, robots will prove very valuable filling voids, doing things that humans can’t do as economically:

    – monitoring the health and location of lonely elderly people

    – guarding empty buildings

    – mowing lawns

    – cleaning floors

    – looking for leaks in pipelines, holes in fences, etc.

    – walking dogs

    – shoveling driveways

    – carrying heavy backpacks to school

    – sniffing for pollutants

    – delivering mail in large office buildings

    – carrying things from one location to another

    – emptying trash cans

    – reminding people to take medicine, pick up the kids, etc.

    Take a look at: http://www.irobot.com/sp.cfm?pageid=128

    Robots don’t have to become near-human to have a huge, unanticipated impact on humans. Web sites and software don’t pretend to be humans, but they have changed life dramatically in a short time. I predict that in the next 10 years we’ll see the kickoff of the robot revolution, where people will have a variety of specialized and general-purpose robot assistants around the house and office. And just as you don’t have to be a programmer to post content on the internet, you won’t need to be technical to instruct the robot how to perform flexibly the types of tasks for which is was designed.

  • Elric

    “After several generations of living in the computer culture, simulation will become fully naturalized. Authenticity in the traditional sense loses its value, a vestige of another time.

    Sherry Turkle,Edge, World Question Center,�What is Your Dangerous Idea?�

    Well, that time is still to come and we’ll see how it will look like and feel, but even without that how do we know what’s ‘real’? How one defines ‘real’? How can we be sure that ‘everything’ is not just our mental projection?

  • Raymond

    What a refreshing topic and great set of questions!

    I am very intrigued by the question: Can another mode of existence become more real or powerful than ours?

    It intrigues me that we acknowledge that our existence is real in the same breath that we acknowledge that another could be.

    I recall a friendly conversation with a coworker who stated with some confidence that we each create our own reality. I happened to be by a desk with a pair of scissors at hand. I picked up the scissors and opened them. I asked my coworker to place his thumb in the open scissors. He did. I told him that my reality says that if I squeeze then his thumb is going to hurt. I asked him: what does his reality say? He removed his thumb.

    The title of this topic hits home: reality bytes (read bites).

    But the context in Turkle’s article stems from two anecdotes: children in a museum failing to see intrinsic value in a display of an authentic turtle from the Galapagos Islands, and a nursing home patient’s seeing intrinsic value in an artificial pet, a therapeutic robot.

    These anecdotes do not point to a condition that has resulted from our advanced state of simulation making authenticity quaint, at least not in my mind. The children were too young, and too comfortable, to have experienced enough of life’s realities to see the value in an authentic turtle. Just the opposite is true, unfortunately, for the nursing home patient. Having experienced so many of life’s biting realities, well, even an artificial pet is welcome company.

    But I will go with nother here: that patient would be so much better off with a person at their side. The concern is not that these new technologies will create a new reality, but that the reality that is will make our unquestioning reliance on these technologies produce, as often as not, unexpected and undesirable consequences.

  • Nikos

    I didn’t expect to have a thing to say about this show, but the photo beside Chelsea’s clever tease has been haunting me. While drifting off last night, I think I figured out why.

    ‘Homo sapiens’ – ‘Man the thinker’ – is our putative species name (never mind the idiotic sexism for a moment, let alone the absurdity of the arrogance behind the Latin-based claim to inherernt rationality).

    ‘Homo tech-obsessor’ would be much more apt.

    Technology is our fascination: our ‘charmer’ to we-as-cobra.

    And it may well turn out to be the killer ‘curiosity’ to we-as-cat. (But that’s not where I’m going with this. That’s a topic for later, maybe, or for someone’s follow-up.)

    That photo and the questions Chelsea poses resolved for me into this:

    It’s the outcome of our snake-charmed tech-fascination… plus the inherent propensity for every kid to love stuffed animals.

    That robot is a techie’s teddy bear.

    But I just can’t imagine that it hugs as good as a human.

  • I love my gadgets: computer, ipod, blender, electric toothbrush and vacuum cleaner. For awhile I lived without electricity which automatically cuts down on the gadgetry. I wasn’t a complete Luddite. I had my boombox & batteries so I did maintain my NPR addiction. I wouldn’t want to make a value judgment either way because it is such a mixed bag. I did feel more engaged with my immediate environment but it was a lot more work. I miss the quiet and just sitting on my porch in the evening watching night fall into the trees. Then again, I don’t miss chopping kindling in the rain with my flashlight in my teeth. It was through environmental activism that I joined the computer world. I do not know if that is ironic or not. Now I can’t write more than a paragraph without one. I have my Mac set on the woodland scene screensaver. Sometimes it gives me the creeps by reminding me of the scene in the 70s sci-fi movie Soilent Green where you could have your choice of environments on a screen but in reality nature was dead. Until my computer learns how to wash dishes and clean the bathroom, I’m thinking that the off button is still a valuable feature.

  • Let’s not forget the pop culture robots who won our love:

    -Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons

    -Data from Star Trek

    -Vicki the Robot from Small Wonder

    -C-3PO and R2-D2 from Star Wars

    -Dot Matrix from Space Balls

    -Lisa from Weird Science

    -The Governator…I mean The Terminator…from The Terminator

    -Agent Smith from The Matrix

    Gosh, I listed a lot more than I expected to.

    Also, I enjoyed plaintext’s comment about how dogs have used the chance to take upon themselves human characteristics to maintain their favorable alliance with us humans. They’re smart!

  • Just read Turkle’s essay. I agree with the kids that there was no need to cage a real turtle, not because real turtles are messy but because there is no point in making a living creature suffer to prove a point about Darwin. I don’t suppose they had a real scientist caged up and on display for authenticity.

    The part about the lonely old woman and the robot dog reminded me of Pinocchio and Gepetto. Gepetto was a lonely old man who made a “relational artifact” or “therapeutic robot” out of one of his puppets. Still, he wished it could be a real boy.

  • In my upper post it should read Soylent Green. If you haven’t seen it, its a classic.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070723/

    Steve, how did you make the movie titles be the links?

  • Nikos

    Yeah, Steve, how’d you do that?

    Brendan: I think it’s time to cut-and-combine all the various posting technique-lessons into a thread perhaps titled:

    ‘Potter’s Blogging Tutorial’

    I hope you’re smiling — but even so, I’m not kidding.

    It would make a great page!

    Steve’s reply (should he give one) can go there as the ‘substitute teacher of the day’ lesson.

    (Or something like that.)

    Cheers.

  • Brendan: I second the above suggestion.

    Nikos: I just read about the Seattle meet-up. Looks like you all were having a fine (if blurry) time.

  • I have been reminded that the “relational artifact” known as my car is one mechanical being that I hold very dear. She got my attention by giving me the silent treatment when I turned the ignition. My heart in my throat, I coaxed, I pleaded, I begged, I bargined, I affectionastly patted her dashboard with promises to do better and to get her that long overdue oil change. Then she started up. (phew!). She is spending the day with her boyfriends at the garage.

  • cindy

    If we plan for robots to take over all of the jobs that avecfrites listed, what will happen to the already low wage earns that fill many labor intesive jobs? And while it has been suggested that the fertility rate is dropping so quickly that robots are necessary, have we really reached that point globally?

  • “The children were too young, and too comfortable, to have experienced enough of life’s realities to see the value in an authentic turtle.”

    Or, the children, being naturally wise, understood that the turtle can’t exercise its natural life habits in an unnatural setting and so, they might as well be looking at a synthetic one.

  • While I doubt making hyperlinks is really germane to the subject of robots taking over the world here it goes…

    I use HTML tags to make hyperlinks and stylistic changes to the text that I write. A few weeks ago people asked me to show them how I did it, but it was a disastrous. There is no easy way to try to explain HTML when the blog program that this site uses interprets the HTML as how the browser should present the information (computers are so literal!). Thus, I will refer y’all to a great site that teaches basic HTML — http://www.htmlgoodies.com. Go to http://www.htmlgoodies.com/primers/html/article.php/3478171 to learn how to make hyperlinks. http://www.htmlgoodies.com/primers/html/article.php/3478151#open shows how to do bold and italics.

    I hope that this helps…

  • I forgot some “robotsâ€?!!!

    -Inspector Gadget from Inspector Gadget

    -Locutus (Captain Picard’s borg alter ego) and Seven of Nine also from Star Trek

    Is this fascination with robots some sort of unisex perversion of penis envy? Do we envy the gadgets of robots since we have invented so many artificial appendages – like iPods, Blue Tooth devices, and pacemakers – for ourselves? It appears that we’re trying to evolve to a point when we can effectively say, “Go go, Gadget copter!�

  • Long story and explanation, the links in this version of my last post should work. HTML uses “”s, and when I copied my posting from MS Word, different “”s were pasted then what this website uses correctly for HTML function… Sorry!

    I forgot some “robots�!!!

    -Inspector Gadget from Inspector Gadget

    -Locutus (Captain Picard’s borg alter ego) and Seven of Nine also from Star Trek

    Is this fascination with robots some sort of unisex perversion of penis envy? Do we envy the gadgets of robots since we have invented so many artificial appendages – like iPods, Blue Tooth devices, and pacemakers – for ourselves? It appears that we’re trying to evolve to a point when we can effectively say, “Go go, Gadget copter!�

  • anhhung: Thanks! (re HTML, if not germane at least tangential)

    Don’t forget the Stepford Wives.

  • Raymond

    Allison, the natural wisdom of children stems from their complete lack of need to understand what they see through the lens of their preconceived idea of the world.

    We, non-children, see the turtle, and if so inclined, see just another example of exploitation. But this is the unnatural wisdom that children need to learn and why we work so hard to teach them.

    My point, a little one, was not that caging a turtle for sake of authenticity was legitimate, although it might be, but that children learn the value of authenticity through life’s realities. And so a child’s lack of value for the authentic over the artificial may have more to do with simple maturity than with a change in human development or culture in a digital age.

  • avecfrites

    The best robot is Gort (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043456/).

    “Klaatu Barada Nikto”

    — Gort

  • Homosapians have valued simulation ever since they were painting Bison and Tigers on cave walls. It seems the lack of authenticity comes in when the simulation is confused with what it is simulating.

    If you think that your robot is a dog you may be in for a big disappointment. But, if you appreciate your robot for all of its inate authentic robotness and don’t pretend that it is a mammal I don’t see why you can’t appreciate or have an authentic robot.

  • Then again…

    If Whistler paints a picture of his mother he has created an authentic simulation. If I paint a copy of Whistler’s painting and try to sell it as if it were Whistler’s painting of his mother I have created a simulated simulation. If Whistler were to go mad and confuse his painting of his mother with his actual mother, his painting is still an authentic simulation. His ability to confuse his painting with his actual mother speaks to the power of his imagination and his psychosis. If Whistler’s neighbor were to build a robot that looked and acted just like Whistler’s mother that would be an authentic simulation too and yet, however comforting that may be for Whistler, I think it contributes to his delusional madness.

  • Or, let me clarify: I think that the lack of authenticity lies in the intent to deceive. So if Whistler’s neighbor was trying to convince Whistler that the robot was his mother it would be inauthentic but if Whistlers neighbor was just making a robotic replica of Whistler’s mother the robot itself would still be an authentic robot just not an authentic mother of Whistler’s.

  • cheesechowmain

    Is the placement of eyes is trivial or important from a mammalian perspective? Many classes of predatory animals have their eyes close together and forward; non-predatory animals tend to be moved towards the sides of the head. Obviously, there are exceptions to this and humans are capable of nuturing interactions with predatory animals.

  • mulp

    How is thinking of my Robopet and Roboraptor as being real any different than thinking that I’m engaged in a conversation with you?

  • cheesechowmain

    Appropriate limitations to the relationships between humans and robots: I can’t help but consider the relationship between Gigolo Joe and his *clients* in the movie Artificial Intelligence: AI, or a movie like Westworld. I’m unable to make the stretch that this is an outcome that will be actualized.

  • cheesechowmain

    BTW, my last post doesn’t imply there are not *intimate* interactions between humans and machines. I’m not sure how deep the level of emotional attachment or the novel interactions that are available.

  • KingOfCane

    What does this conversation bring to the discussion of Animal personalities and our relationships to pets?

  • xanphi

    ADD/ADDHD is natural selections respons to pop-ups

  • wnoons

    I sing the body electric.

    What are we but machines? Our uniqeness and our “specialness” are we either, really?

  • cheesechowmain

    Stephen Hawking uses an artificial voice. Yet, many people are able to push pass this and have a very human interaction with him and his ideas. Perhaps, he’s an example of hybrid style emergence, where machines and humans begin to morph?

  • KingOfCane

    Steven Hawking is behind the voice. Here the voice is just an extention of his actions.

  • Raymond,

    i’m not sure if you understood my point, or if you did, but leaped to something else. I wasn’t trying to claim that the children were concerned about exploitation. I was saying that from a child’s point of view (and I’ve seen this in my young child), whether the turtle was real or not, wasn’t going to change their experience of the exhibit. Why? Because the turtle doesn’t do much in the exhibit and it certainly isn’t going to be doing what it would in its natural habitat. I think a turtle is a bad example to make the point.

    Would the children have said the same about monkeys? Probably not, because the monkeys are active and display a lot of personality. With the example of the turtle, we apply an adult perception that the children would even notice. The turtle is so inert to them. But they would notice the different quality of experience if it were monkeys or dogs.

  • On the question of how intimate a relationship between a human and a machine can be, you have to define intimacy. If intimacy is a matter of emotional bonding, I suppose a human can emotionally bond to a machine. I mean, children emotionally bond with stuffed animals.

    But we don’t typcially see this as an ‘intimate’ relationship. It is not an exchange of emotion. Whether we can create machines that have the capacity for independently generated emotions is another question. Its not hard to imagine that we could someday figure out the complex chemistry that is behind how we process our experience and life and feed back that processing analysis into our definition of self.

    I don’t know how close we are though…

  • mikem

    Isn’t our fascination with robots just an extension of our desire to form attachments to other creatures like pets? Pets provide humans with the closest thing to unconditional love and robots may be the next step because of the potential for conversation. As much as I talk to my dog, does he really understand frustrations with sibling rivalry? Is that really what humans are looking for in such relationships?

  • marianna

    I have to say I found this whole conversation very frustrating. Robots are tools and they can be used ethically or not. Deciding to turf your elder care over to robots is not what I would call the right thing to do. Using a robot for educational purposes or to perform repetitive tasks etc would be an appropriate use. As the technology develops we should decide what is appropriate use for the robot.

  • Hey, Thanks for the door prize:)

  • Raymond

    Allision, it looks like I did miss-understand your point. Thanks for the clarification. And I completely agree that inert turtles would not be the right choice to capture the children’s attention. Probably a robot turtle that did something goofy would work better. Oh well.

  • metolius8

    Robots are not about replacement…that’s the by-product. They are about human beings ‘bodly going where no man has gone before’. Doesn’t matter if there is a purpose. We go there because we can. Its why robots will be built; why mankind will be cloned; why stem cells will be studied. There is no stopping it. We are drawn to exploration like amoth to flame. That’s just the way it is.

  • I didn’t know Plato was dubious of books, that’s fascinating. Harold Bloom thinks people become passionate readers when they discover the inadequacy of all human relationships. If we are willing to grant books a pass, perhaps we could also warm to robots/computers by regarding them not as (direct!) substitutes for humans, but as intereactive art. Would Sherry Turkle feel bad about people in nursing homes spending their afternoons reading Shakespeare or Dickens? A book is a completely inert object that produces a kind of epi-consciousness when it is read. Could not the same thing be said about a robot or computer program? Except that the latter is less inert and it’s consciousness is at least potentially less epi.

  • cheesechowmain

    First, great show. You folks should allow us to vote for the Top 10 ROS shows or something. Just for sh*ts-and-giggles. This show and the EHM would be at the top.

    “If consciousness is, in fact, an outgrowth of our relationships … then I don’t see any barrier to robots developing a self awareness. And then what?”

    IMO, this is an extremely important idea that should not be missed. The problem however is we don’t have anything resembling a quasi-rigorous understanding/description of consciousness; certainly no consensous. This statement contains an implied understanding of consciousness that relies upon something akin to emergence. We understand it by observing some of the properties that emerge from the system we call consciousness. A reasonable heuristic for both introspection and inter-spection. I would enjoy hearing some folks with some expertise on emergence, non-linear systems, evolutionary psychology, cognitive neuroscience, etc. The Santa Fe Institute has some very excellent folks with wide and deep cross-disciplinary research upon these types of matters. http://www.santafe.edu/

  • I just caught up with this show. I’m with cheesechowmain, this was a fantastic show.

    Lately I’ve been having a bit of an existential crisis. It all started when I was petting my cat. My cat is fairly fat and very lazy. She’s also pretty old. That is, she doesn’t do much of anything, and she won’t be able to not do anything for very much longer. Yet we have a legitimate relationship. I pet her, she looks cute and arches her neck; I feed her, she sheds all over my bed; I clean her poop, she lays on my feet when they are cold. These relationships are not very reciprocal. I take care of her, care for her, maintain her bodily waste, while all she does, essentially, is exist in a manner I happen to find to be adorable. She doesn’t do anything for me, yet I invest not only care and effort, but genuine emotion and affection for her. Why do I care for her? Soon she will die, and there’s no way I will not be very very sad about this. Why do I put up with this? Should I care for her, even though, after she’s gone, it won’t have meant anything that I did? Even though I can’t come up with a sturdy justification for my actions, at the same time I know I won’t stop giving her water when she hops into the bathroom sink. Maybe it’s because I know she has a finite life span, and that life span happens to be within mine, that I care for her. Maybe that’s what separates our actions and emotions towards “authentic,” sentient beings and man-made machines. Maybe it does have to do with, as Professor Turkle (i think) asserted, death, and fear of death. Now, each time I pet my cat on the underside of her pink belly, I will be confronting my own innate fear of death, of my family’s eventual death, of my own, of how everything I take the time to love I will eventually unlove. I don’t think I’d pet a robot because I know it isn’t bound to a life cycle I can relate to, and I wouldn’t confront any of my own basic fears in relating intimately with a robot.

    I’m not sure if this makes any sense in writing, but it is at least somewhat related in my mind.

  • Fingal

    How strange to hear those disembodied, disoriented voices issuing from Xanadu, living in no-place and chanting (eerily like T. H. White’s ants) “we are only here for the money.” If this is the model for a Type 1 industrial-scale artificial environment, interstellar travel is going to suck. I am reminded of Cabrini Green and the banlieux; normal science meets bad social science.

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