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Artificial Intelligence, Real Issue

Smart Box or Real Boy?

I Think Therefore I Am? continued...

Sudia is a San Francisco-based e-commerce security consultant and self-described ethicist, scientist, and thinker about intelligent systems. He likens the role of the artificial-intelligence systems designer or robot-maker to that of the parent of an adolescent.

"The teenager starts to have a good variety of responses [but] not a really great restraint system," he says. "You're trying to form their character in such a way that they will make reasonable choices that will be socially beneficial for them. So you play God to an enormous extent with your children. Forget about forming them into Mozart -- you try form them into something that can survive by getting them to have a self."

I Make Choices, Therefore I Am?

The ability to make choices alone does not suggest autonomy, Bostrom points out. The computer Deep Blue defeated chess grand master Gary Kasparov. It can choose from among millions of possible chess moves in a given situation, but just try sending it across the street to buy a quart of milk.

"In order to grant autonomy to a human, we require quite a lot of them," Bostrom says. "Children don't have the full range of autonomy, although they can do more than choose chess moves or make simple choices like that. It requires a conception of their well-being and a life plan and that kind of thing. I don't think any machine that exists on earth today would have either sentience or autonomy."

For us to say that a machine is self-aware and therefore is a conscious being, we must first know what it is to be aware. At least one human mind contends that when it comes to the nature of awareness, we don't have a clue.

Margaret Boden, PhD, professor of philosophy and psychology at the University of Sussex, England, tells WebMD that it may well be possible to create a robot that appears to be a self-aware, autonomous being.

"In principle there could be a computer simulation of such a creature, because everything the human mind does depends on the human brain," she says. "But if you're asking me whether that robot would be conscious, I would say that we don't even know what it is to say that we are conscious."

Even if we suppose, as Spielberg and Kubrick do, that it's possible to create a robot capable of acting in its own interests and of feeling pain, loss, and loneliness, will we treat it as one of us, or as just another smart toaster?

I Buy Groceries, Therefore I Am?

If we can be emotionally manipulated by a movie -- another form of simulated life -- or if we enjoy the Las Vegas version of Paris, then we could certainly be affected by the crying of a robot baby or the pleadings of an artificial boy like David in AI. And it's that interface -- the box that contains the hardware (a robotic brain) and the way in which the software interacts with the user that may make all the difference.

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