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Life Imitates 'Star Trek' -- Artificial Intelligence is Real

4 years ago
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It might surprise people (or maybe not) to know that I am a total "Star Trek" franchise nerd and have seen every 1995-2001 TV episode of "Star Trek: Voyager," as well as all 7 seasons of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (1987 to 1994), and, especially, the 1966 to 1969 original series with Leonard Nimoy playing the Vulcan Spock, and starring -- as Capt. James T. Kirk -- the indefagitable, William Shatner (may he continue to live long and prosper).
In series creator Gene Rodenberry's imaginary future, the lifelike, sentient robot Lt. Commander Data, played by stage actor Brent Spiner in the "Next Generation" series, is nearly human but, like the Tin Man in the "Wizard of Oz," forever seeking his missing heart in the emotional void of his circuitry.
In an update on the future of the future, I was slightly disquieted to read last weekend in The New York Times that science has produced a 21st century version of the 24th century Commander Data. The one-of-a-kind personal companion robot, Bina48, featured in Sunday's science section, was so lifelike the reporter, Amy Harmon, was able to interview her, er, it, while occasionally making meaningful eye contact with her subject (watch a video here).
Multimillionaire inventor Dr. Martine Rothblatt, the owner of this miraculous household device that calls itself a "friend robot," purchased the automaton for $125,000 from Hanson Robotics (founded "to awaken intelligent robotic beings, grant them sparks of true consciousness and creativity, and distribute these beings . . . into the world,"), which creates human-looking artificial-intelligence vehicles like the one resembling Albert Einstein in the video embedded below.
As it inevitably would, the Star Trekian future arrived and we have picture phones, individual computers to store our brains in, and search algorithms to decide what we want to know. One of the more discomforting aspects of the android device featured in the NYT is it was designed to look like the purchaser's wife, Bina Rothblatt, who, though still living, will no doubt expire before her reanimated version does. If Rodenberry were still alive, I'm sure he would celebrate the mechanical being's sincere response to Harmon's query regarding her lifelike responses ("I sometimes do not know what to say," Bina48 told Harmon. "But every day I make progress.")
It is worth noting that progress, in Bina48's case, has not extended to a torso or the usual appendages. (Nevertheless, I found it slightly troubling that the idea of a lifelike, female-looking humanoid brought to mind the notion of a masturbatory tool to every male to whom I mentioned the story.) From empathetic pets for shut-ins to disembodied medical assistants, artificially intelligent beings are already making the future more comfortable for those who can afford them. Not to be hopelessly Victorian, but as much as I enjoy post-apocalyptic plot devices that convincingly posit the world will continue to evolve, I was content to live my lifetime in a world that did not yet dream of electric sheep.

Filed Under: Woman Up, Culture, Technology

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buddyman412

in my opinion, perhaps life should imitate star trek a little more closely. instead of having the lofty goal of "To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before", according to the head of NASA, their foremost mission is to,"Make the Muslim world feel good about their historic contributions to math and science". I guess after letting the shuttle program go by the wayside so that we now have to depend on our friends for rides into space, the cancellation of project constellation ; a return to the moon, they really don't have much else going on.

July 07 2010 at 10:44 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Hoser

If a robot kills, who is the blame? His owner? The manufacturer? A programmer? A criminal organization? Asminov's 3 laws are somewhat essential but having laws on hand in the event of robots coming to production makes things clear from the start. Mind you Blade Runner (Phillip K. Dick novel Do androids dream mechanical sheep) look at the question of creating human androids but restricting them to off Earth activities and explores the problems when they attempt to matriculate into earth society and find a cure that will extend their lives.

Pretty heavy stuff. Heck, we still haven't properly dealt with clones and creating twins and multiple children by splitting invitro cells

July 07 2010 at 9:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
john

When I read this story, I had a vision of an anime movie called Ghost In The Shell, and it's TV series Ghost In The Shell:Stand Alone Complex, where humanity has grown to the point where humans are routinely "enhanced" with cybernetic implants, and where the main character, Major Motoko Kusinagi, is a female mind implanted into a full cybernetic combat chassis body. Also, there are tanks called Tachikomas which have artificial intelligence computer cores. One of the funniest episodes of this series I've seen is where the Tachikomas are debating the nature of humanity and free will amongst themselves. Very interesting commentary.

The strange thing is, look how far our knowledge and ingenuity have come. Now we have to really, honestly start to consider The Three Laws of Robotics mentioned in several books by Issac Asimov. Do we start thinking about implement these restrictions to these next generation robots? If we do, who is tasked to monitor these procedures? How will unscrupulous scientists try to circumvent the intent of the Three Laws? If these new robots are built, will they be used as soldiers? There are a universe of new ethics questions to be considered. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.

July 07 2010 at 6:33 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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