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Artificial Intelligence, Real Issue

Smart Box or Real Boy?

I Buy Groceries, Therefore I Am? continued...

"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.

"You can have systems which to all intents and purposes are intelligent -- at least a lot more intelligent than pencils or word processors -- but don't have the ... characteristics of human existence," Horswill tells WebMD.

There's no reason, for example, that a shopping robot needs to look like your Uncle Chuck. It could be a rolling cash register -- a simple box with a screen, grabber arms for taking boxes of corn flakes off the shelf, and a drawer for holding the change. But it would still be an "it" and not a "him" or a "her," Horswill contends.

"You could build a machine with a Commander Data-like body and give it emotions, and then remove its brain and put it in a trash-can robot with a cash drawer and only allow it to communicate in Morse code," he says, " My guess is that most people would be much more willing to switch off the trash-can robot then they would Commander Data.

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