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IEET > Rights > Personhood > Vision > Bioculture > Futurism > Staff > Kyle Munkittrick

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The Turkle Test


Kyle Munkittrick
Kyle Munkittrick
Science Not Fiction

Posted: Feb 10, 2011

Can you have an emotional connection with a robot?

Sherry Turkle, Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, believes you certainly could. Whether or not you should is the question.

People, especially children, project personalities and emotions on to rudimentary robots. As the Chronicle of Higher Education article about Turkle’s work shows, the result of believing a robot can feel is not always happy:

One day during Turkle’s study at MIT, Kismet malfunctioned. A 12 year-old subject named Estelle became convinced that the robot had clammed up because it didn’t like her, and she became sullen and withdrew to load up on snacks provided by the researchers. The research team held an emergency meeting to discuss “the ethics of exposing a child to a sociable robot whose technical limitations make it seem uninterested in the child,” as Turkle describes in [her new book] Alone Together.

We want to believe our robots love us. Movies like Wall-E, The Iron Giant, Short Circuit, and A.I. are all based on the simple idea that robots can develop deep emotional connections with humans. For fans of the Half-Life video game series, Dog, a large scrapheap monstrosity with a penchant for dismembering hostile aliens, is one of the most lovable and loyal characters in the game. Science fiction is packed with robots that endear themselves to us, such as Data from Star Trek, the replicants in Blade Runner, and Legion from Mass Effect. Heck, even R2-D2 and C-3PO seem endeared to one another.

And Futurama has a warning for all of us:


Yet these lovable mechanoids are not what Turkle is critiquing.

Turkle is no Luddite, and does not strike me as a speciesist. What Turkle is critiquing is contentless, performed emotion. Robots like Kismet and Cog are representative of a group of robots where the brains are second to bonding. Humans have evolved to react to subtle emotional cues that allow us to recognize other minds, other persons.

Kismet and Cog have rather rudimentary A.I., but very advanced mimicking and response abilities. The result is they seem to understand us. Part of what makes HAL-9000 terrifying is that we cannot see it emote. HAL simply processes and acts.

On the one hand, we have empty emotional aping; on the other, faceless super-computers. What are we to do? Are we trapped between the options of the mindless bot with the simulated smile or the sterile super-mind calculating the cost of lives?

READ THE REST


Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
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COMMENTS


This is the danger I see of attempting too much progress too quickly, yet we have to begin somewhere? Emotional Intelligence can be rationalised, and mimicking can be assimilated quite easily, and as with mirror neurons, we react and project sentience and feelings into bots.

Yet this does not mean it cannot be achieved? It’s not so much about “hard problems” like say Qualia, (simulating algorithm to “know what it is like to experience”, which I believe can still be ultimately achieved through complex understanding of synaesthesia and memory), yet the hard problem is “apperceptions”, (perceptions + memory and personal experience). I don’t see a connection between Qualia and apperceptions per se because apperceptions appear to be a logical reasoning of responses, crunching feedback of feelings and emotions offered etc.

I could be wrong here.. I don’t know, ( I only have my poor old brain to experiment with)?

Without apperceptions, recorded memories, (or programmed algorithmic responses) are as irrelevant and just plain data. We need not only “mindfiles” but “mindware” that can enact and mimic our core emotional biological functions and brain neural networks. The only way I see to achieve this is reverse engineering the brain, and direct brain-machine links. Then we may just deduce systematically the function and higher neural complexity of apperceptions?

The experiment above is valuable for us to recognise the failings, especially by watching children with their less prejudiced outlooks, and I still say this is a “good” thing that we do wish to connect with other life forms? It is no different to loving a pet animal, seeing sentience and understanding in the eyes of a wild Bear or Lion - this is us reaching out and despite the downside I believe this is an ethic worth promoting? The goal is still to create an emotional and feeling AGI, not merely simulated emotions and responses?





If you’re interested in Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together and how technology isolates us, you should check out the short film Do Not Disconnect for free on YouTube.

The short indie is about a girl who tries to break out of a world where everyone is plugged into their headphones.  A world with no interaction.

Please take a few minutes of your time to watch this fun, heartfelt, and insightful short film!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmRsfnZJh0c

Thanks!





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