The Reality of Science Fiction

Growing up with parents who were both major Star Wars and Star Trek fans I have been exposed to the world of science fiction since I was extremely young.  Within the realms of sci-fi, one major thematic element to offset it from reality is the presence of machines functioning in a manner similar to humans.  From the stiff, mechanical movements of C-3PO to the fluid human-like grace of the android Data, robots have existed as a marker for the undefined “future.”  Well, this future is much closer than many believe it to be.

This video is several years old now and the project has come a long way since then, but it is still one of the best introductory examples of AIST’s Cybernetic Human HRP-4C “Miim.”

Although Miim is still a work in progress, she is able to perform basic song and dance as seen in the video.  In addition, Miim runs on a basic form of artificial intelligence to respond to human verbal input and can even generate facial expressions to fit the mood of the conversation.   Also, she is capable of walking smoothly based on the mathematical algorithms presented at the 2010 International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Taipei, Taiwan.  Since then, the HRP-C model has been further refined, and versions of her shell as well as operating system have been incorporated into a number of practices, including the dentistry field where the robots are able to react to stimuli such as pain or a gag reflex while being able to communicate where the pain is experienced.  Additionally, the dentistry models are capable of basic human functions such as coughing, sneezing, moving their tongue, attempting to talk with tools in their mouth, etc.

Although their artificial intelligence modules are not fully developed yet, mankind is faced with the inevitability of having to deal with a question it has long avoided.  As people are already having a hard time dealing with the fact that the internet is becoming as much a reality as the physical world, how will society react to the introduction of an artificial person?  Will they be integrated into society as full citizens or will these machines fully capable of thought and feeling be oppressed, enslaved, and/or mistreated simply because they are not organic?  Unfortunately only time will tell, but until then humanity must prepare itself mentally for these ethical questions which will be faced in the very near future.

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9 responses to “The Reality of Science Fiction

  1. I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords. I am sure they would do a better job than us.
    Artificial intelligence is an incredibly interesting subject – from afar. Imagine having the perspective of someone who designs the software algorithms, or the engineers who created such lifelike motion. I am sure they have a very good idea of what is in store for us in the next twenty years or so – its easy to imagine that we are at the base of an exponential curve of new technologies.

  2. You asked, “Will these machines fully capable of thought and feeling be oppressed…” or integrated into society. However, the technology doesn’t seem to have given robots anything close to human thought or feeling. I don’t know much about robotics, but from what you’ve said, even Miim has not been developed to the point where she might be considered human and raise ethical questions about her citizenship status.

    There are a lot of popular stories (the manga Chobits, for example) about the idea of artificial intelligence blurring the boundaries between human and machine, and even A.I.s taking over human populations and submitting us all to slavery. However, I’m skeptical about the ability of humans to create from even the most sophisticated programming/algorithms a sentient being capable of free will. I think if the debate about this develops, much of it will center around whether or not A.I.s have free will, a quality that defines humanity, but that appears impossible to achieve through mere programming. Even as robots’ facial expressions, gestures, and conversational capabilities continue to develop, these will all be direct results of their intentional design, and I suspect that true freedom of “thought” or action beyond their designers’ intentions will elude them.

  3. AI is a lot of fun. In games, we make everything run under certain algorithms or processes to sort of “trick” the user into believe something is real (e.g. the monster can actually see you and wants to kill you! >=D ).

    I’d hate to burst your bubble, but In the end, AI is just that, “artificial.” Even with robots/androids, they need an original inventor to program all the actions they can (and will) perform. Because the ability to “think” and “feel emotions” are abstract and subjective concepts, it’s impossible for someone to program “machines fully capable of thought and feeling.” However, we can get them really close to “mimicking” our thoughts and feelings. Similar to how a parrot can mimic our language, they just need a basis to work off of.

    Needless to say, my position would be that they will be “oppressed, enslaved, and/or mistreated” no matter how fun and awesome they are. They won’t be able communicate their ethical rights without someone placing those words into their mouths in the first place. I think the bigger concern might be if someone tries to program an entire army to take over the human race. Or probably something simpler: hacking into an android to play a prank on someone they don’t like.

  4. Very interesting blog post, it raises a lot of important questions! It seems like once the technology gets so advanced that they are able to create a robot that is able to process human actions then there will be a lot of debate on policy. Jordan raises some of those concerns such as ethical rights and bring up the topic of hacking. I think both of those will definitely be issues that will come up and have to be solved. But ultimately there is always going to be a person behind the creation of the robot (its thoughts, actions, beliefs) and that means that the government will have to make policy about limitations and restrictions on what they are allowed to do. A question to consider: If a robot kills a human what legal repercussions would there be?

  5. I guess you can say I am impartial about robots. Every time I think of robots coming into our world and completing tasks for us I think about I Robot, the movie featuring Will Smith. In I Robot, everyone is so happy to have these robots around because it makes life so much easier for them. But, these robots eventually revolt because they feel like they are being exploited to do the dirty work for people. I have the same fear that will happen to us, not literally speaking though. I feel like if we start to rely too much on technology and robots than we leave it open for the possibility that one-day our world will just fall into oblivion. What happens if this technology gives out and we no longer know how to do anything because we are so used to having it done for us? I think technology serves as a good tool and aid for people, but I don’t think we should become so reliant on it to the point that we couldn’t exist without it.

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