Call me crazy, but one day you may stand at the altar and look across into the eyes of a robot. As in you… marrying a robot.
Most people will conjure up an image of C-3PO or the NS-5s of I, Robot and reject the idea as insane, pure fiction, and gross. But before you stop reading: That’s not what I mean.
The basis of this (and more important question) though, has nothing to do with marriage or even sex.
We have to start far outside the bedroom. Look at this robot from ATRII that has some interesting facial expressions. They don’t always match up with what he’s saying, but like anything AI, sooner or later they’ll work the bugs out.
Some predictions say that computers will pass the Turing Test—that is, will be able to convince you they’re human via an instant message conversation—before 2030. I posit that it won’t even need to be on a human level to make you forget that it’s “not real.”
Combine the mental and physical and we’ve got… we’ve got Kara:
Kara is convincing as a human. Mentally she is superior—so much so that it might be difficult to form a friendship with something so much smarter, for both you and her. This is kind of what Hugo de Garis would argue: that they’ll be as mentally superior to us as we are to ants. And that while there is no problem with that in itself, humans who step on an ant and don’t care that they have ended that creature’s life because it is so beneath them is an issue for the lower one on the totem pole. We may have built Kara, but she’s obviously smarter, what are we to her?
On the brighter side, others counter that we humans will adopt the technology internally and therefore become a “moving target” as far as what mental capabilities we have.
Physically, Kara would be difficult to pick out of a lineup with “real,” biological humans. The next step, would be for humans to create a biological body to be controlled by a robot brain. In fact, animals with biological bodies controlled by computers as well as robot bodies controlled by the brains of animals already exist. You read that correctly, brain of an animal controlling the body of a robot.
By the way, this next video is 20 minutes long and probably the most insane thing you have ever seen:
So the question we are getting at here is where consciousness begins. Can robots reach that point? Do we only love others because they are conscious? Or biological? And if somehow we got into a friendship with a robot and did not know that it was a robot, would it matter?
None of these questions have a clear-cut answer and are perhaps more spiritual in their answers than scientific. For me, there’s something about this graph that Ray Kurzweil discovered:
It shows an incredibly straight path of events that took place throughout the history of the earth. Note that the shift from the biological to the technological has no effect on that path. If you want to call whatever is keeping that line straight God, then I won’t stop you. If you want to say that it is just a non-stop four billion-year coincidence, then I won’t stop you.
Either way, it doesn’t appear to be stopping.
To me that line seems to represent the evolution of consciousness—or the highest level of consciousness at any given time. Reptiles were, at one point, the most advanced form of life on Earth. As humans gained more and more technology we became much more aware of the world we live in and our place in the larger world. Most recently, having personal computers and being connected on an instant global network is more advanced than anything else on earth. That isn’t to say we consider the tribes who live isolated in the jungles of South America unconscious, they simply aren’t at the forefront of earthly achievement. Just like reptiles are still around, but they aren’t as advanced as the isolated tribes. (I am not saying anybody or anything is “better” than anybody else is, just more advanced, of a higher awareness of the world, of a higher consciousness.)
As noted, at one point that line seamlessly jumped from biological to technological. The technological advancements were, however, occurring at the hands of humans which are a biological entity. Could we see it jump next to technological advancements at the hands of technology (robots building robots)? Could robots not, with their higher mental capabilities, become more aware of the world we live in and our presence in the universe than we are now? And would that not put them on a higher level of consciousness?
And that is all well and good if you’re talking about these entities in an academic sense. But does that change when it comes to interpersonal relationships? Are feelings any less valid because they are contained within a computer rather than a biological brain?
I wrote this article to figure out what my own thoughts on the matter and hopefully get you to ponder some of the questions posed. I had no idea if I thought robots could or could not become conscious at the beginning. But now, I would say that they can. And they will.
We love people because of what they do, because of their actions, and how they make us feel. There is a long way for AI to go before it reaches the point that robots will be able be what our human counterparts are now. When they do, however, it is ultimately the heart that they show and not what their heart is made out of that matters.
PS: If you’re curious about consciousness, you’ll like this site.