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Health & Balance

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Artificial Intelligence, Real Issue

Smart Box or Real Boy?

I Make Choices, Therefore I Am? continued...

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.

"If an AI got to look like a dog, maybe it would have the rights of a dog. ... If it got to look like Einstein, maybe it would have the rights of an Einstein," Sudia says.

It's certainly possible to design an intelligent system that could, say, do the grocery shopping and pay at the register for us. To do this, it doesn't have to look like a human, says Ian Horswill, PhD, assistant professor of computer science at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

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