Skip to content

Health & Balance

Artificial Intelligence, Real Issue

Smart Box or Real Boy?
Font Size
A
A
A
By
WebMD Feature

Sept. 24, 2001 --If you create a machine that is capable of independent reasoning, have you created life? Do you have a responsibility to that life or have you merely assembled another piece of clever hardware that will be rendered obsolete by the next new thing?

In the Steven Spielberg-Stanley Kubrick film AI (as in artificial intelligence), a robot manufacturer creates David, a synthetic boy who is programmed to love. His human owner starts a program that irreversibly fixes the cyberkid's affections on his owner.

Recommended Related to Mind, Body, Spirit

Fall in Love with Work

By Anna Davies "Work" is never going to be synonymous with "play" — heck, that's why they pay you. Still, you can find inspiration and purpose even in a ho-hum job. Bonnie Kelly and Teresa Walsh, cofounders of Silpada Designs, a direct-sales jewelry company with thousands of representatives around the country, offer tips to help you cultivate passion for your work.  

Read the Fall in Love with Work article > >

But by designing and building David, the robot maker has created another Frankenstein's monster. The apparently self-aware "mecha" (short for "mechanical") aches for love from his human "mother" and yearns like Pinocchio to be made a "real" boy.

The film raises both intriguing and troubling philosophical questions about what it means to be human, to have a sense of self, and to be a unique, independent being worthy of respect and rights under the law.

When David, acting to save himself from the taunts and threats of flesh-and-blood boys, accidentally injures his owners' son, he is abandoned in the woods and left to fend for himself. He finds himself in the company of freakish, broken, half-formed robots that stay "alive" by scavenging spare parts from a dump.

But just because David cries and pleads to stay with the woman he calls Mommy, and flees when he is tracked down by bounty hunters, are his instincts of terror and self-preservation genuine, or are they merely a brilliant mechanical and electronic simulation of how a real boy would respond? Does it matter?

I Think Therefore I Am?

Nick Bostrom, PhD, a lecturer in philosophy at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., says it does matter.

"I think that as soon as an entity becomes sentient -- capable of experiencing pain or pleasure -- it gets some sort of moral status, just by virtue of being able to suffer," Bostrom tells WebMD. "Even though animals don't have human rights -- and most of us think it's acceptable to use them for medical research -- there are still limits. We don't allow people to torture animals for no reason whatsoever."

1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Today on WebMD

woman in yoga class
6 health benefits of yoga.
beautiful girl lying down of grass
10 relaxation techniques to try.
 
mature woman with glass of water
Do you really need to drink 8 glasses of water a day?
coffee beans in shape of mug
Get the facts.
 
jet plane landing at sunset
Slideshow
poinsettias
Quiz
 
Hungover man
Slideshow
Welcome mat and wellington boots
Slideshow
 
Woman worn out on couch
Article
Happy and sad faces
Quiz
 
Fingertip with string tied in a bow
Article
laughing family
Quiz