Tuesday, 28 October 2014

As developments in artificial intelligence advance, and we step closer to an age where interaction with automatons will be a mundane facet of daily life, the question arises: do we really want robots that are indistinguishable from people?

Certainly, staring at a stocky metal frame coiled with hydraulic tubes and copper wires might not be the most aesthetically pleasing of pastimes, but the immediate existential indicator serves a purpose. If you know you're conversing with a robot, a machine designed to follow an unbreakable set of rules and facilitate your needs in accordance with them, would you not be more comfortable revealing potentially private information? Take, for example, a robot working at a bank. Combining the role of teller and computer, the robot is able to process loan applications and the like through simple conversation. If the robot advertised its mechanical nature through its appearance, it would, in essence, be little different to applying via a computer terminal (albeit with a more rigid reassurance of security). However, if the robot appeared human, might an element of reluctance creep in, when divulging details that could be potentially humiliating or harmful?

Consider another example: a robotic police officer. Where social stigmas might prevent someone from fully revealing their habits or predilections, even when they may be pertinent to a case (see: the tendency for victims of domestic violence to withhold the true extent of their suffering for fear of how it will affect their image), talking to a robotic officer could provide a means for balancing unbiased reception without demanding the cognitive composure necessary to fill out a form or written statement. Here again, a robot that does not masquerade as human would serve better than one that did.

So, is the push to design artificial constructs in our own image really the future of robotics? The human form is highly adaptive, and our environments are constructed with our shape in mind. But, from a psychological standpoint, it seems that many of the advantages of a mechanical automaton would be lost if they were to perfectly emulate their masters. To have to constantly question whether the person on the other end of the table -- or the other end of the phone -- is made of organs or circuits; the potential for psychological distress is enormous, not to mention the ethical implications related to treatment of an organic entity versus an artificial one.

So, should we really be striving to shape our artificial assistants in our own image? Would the familiarity breed comfort, or suspicion?

To emulate, or not to emulate: that is the question.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to RSS Feed Follow me on Twitter!