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As technology progresses through time and depiction, machines take on an almost human gait (behavious) and posture, if not in society then in appearance. While this proves the advancement we have made in robotics, the increasing likeness between humans and machines has actually evoked great fear among people, giving rise to the theory of the uncanny valley.
Stare at this picture for 10 seconds.
Do you feel an unsettling chill creep over you? Well, you have just experienced the uncanny valley, discovered by Japanese roboticist, Masahiro Mori. While humanoid robots (examples include Wall-E, R2-D2 and C3-P0 of Star Wars) are appealing to people, the appeal stops at a certain point, and a robot that resembles a human too much induces disgust and revulsion in us instead. This is illustrated by the graph below.
The idea behind the uncanny valley is that when robots are clearly non-human like (before 60% mark), we can easily pick out the human traits and are thus empathic towards it, finding it adorable. However, when the robot reaches the uncanny valley (the sudden dip between 60% to 90%), then the non-human characteristics will stand out, we see it as an abnormal human rather than a robot attempting to imitate a human. Henceforth, the anomalies and flaws would serve to create this feeling that something is uncanny about the robot. In the gothic horror Frankenstein, the monster was described to be made “more monstrous by his resemblance”, demonstrating this innate fear of “unnatural” humanoids.
On the flip side of the coin, transhumanism also have the danger of slipping into the uncanny valley due to their “unnatural characteristics”. According to this theory, extreme use of technologies to enhance one’ body could cause the person regarded as separate entities altogether.
While modern robots still fall into the uncanny valley, we can expect robots to crawl out of this pit in the near future. While this idea seems fantastical, the presence of such machines will render it more and more difficult to tell human and robot, creator and creation, brain and brainchild apart. Faced with this situation, we cannot help but ask the question, “How can we maintain the dichotomy between humans and robots?”
To answer this question, we have to look at what exactly defines a human. Is it our biological, our emotions, our memories or our qualia (consciousness of our existence and the ability to identify oneself)? As mentioned in part I, there are already existing technologies that can alter our biological structure, our memories etcetera while robots are becoming more successful in mimicking human appearance and emotions. As for the intangible quality of qualia, if we program a robot to imitate the thought processes of a human, would it not too become sentient and aware of its own existence? As such, with the blurring of the divide between humans and robots would, it is highly likely that the sentient, thinking robots would demand for rights or even rise up against us as depicted in the Terminator franchise.
In fact, the idea of assigning rights to robots has already been toyed around, as David Calverley, a lawyer from Arizona State University, has argued, “An analogy can be drawn with the animal rights movement suggesting that, with enough complexity, androids may lay claim to some moral status even though this may be less than what is required for legal personhood.” Thus, if artificial intelligence can justify themselves to be humans, then in accordance to the article 4 (1) (No one shall be held in slavery and servitude) of the European Convention on human rights, we would have treat robots not as mere slaves but as a free, human worker, a concept that is fleshed out in the Bicentennial Man.
So we have to ask ourselves this question, “if machines have emotions, do we still have the right to deal with them as machine or must we treat them as humans?” In A.I and Blade Runner, we can both see the similarities and differences in both films in their attitude towards the treatment of androids and the attitude towards the progression of technology. However, the fact that in both films, the machines meet shockingly violent “deaths” serves to illustrate the general animosity of humans towards the robots. Examples include the scene where fluids spurted out like fountain from the dying Replicant in Blade Runner and the flesh-fair sequence when boiling oil was thrown over androids in A.I. It would seem that even perfect replicas of humans are still treated with the dignity they deserve. One plausible explanation for such behavior would be that the robots are too simply too flawless and have therefore usurped the human’s position as the superior beings. Therefore, there is a sense of jealousy that the humans felt against these beings who are the epitome of the perfect human. This parallels real world incidents when many retrenched workers felt that machines have robbed them of their jobs and was discarded by technological progress. These people often oppose the mechanization and digitalization of our industries and yearned for a return to “the good old days”, a subject that is discussed in our novella
So would the robots and artificial intelligence become indiscernible from normal humans? Would we be able to live in harmony with them? Only time will tell.
Athlete Oscar Pistorius, known as the fastest man with artificial limbs, is also nicknamed the Blade Runner.
British Ministry of Defense have named their military satellites “Skynet”, which is in control of 4 unmanned Killer Vehicles (MQ-9 Reaper). Talk about daring the robots to destroy us all.
Long before robots were introduced to humans, Mary Shelly has already postulated the presence of the uncanny valley with Frankenstein’s monster.
Programmers are taking into account that AI is far superior compared to human intelligence in the aspect of chess, and work on handicaps such as giving the AI less time to think, or removing a piece from the computer.
Deep Thought became the first Artificial Intelligence program that managed to beat a grandmaster of chess in a tournament when it defeated Bent Larson in 1989