It is with a fair amount of interest that I have followed the debate in Europe over the role of AI and how it should be viewed or regulated. Readers of this post may remember the kerfuffle caused by Sophia, the robot that appeared at Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh and caused a stir as a robot, as a woman robot and as a woman robot in an Arab country without a hajib. Well, the discussion has come up again in Europe where the European Parliament, to the outrage of AI specialists, advised that robots be given legal status. Like a corporation, this would not hold the companies that created the robots legally responsible for their behavior. It seems to be step in the Alfred P Newman, “what, me worry?” theology that seems to be the order of the day. If guns don’t kill people, then why should we think that companies that make robots are responsible for what they do. And yet, what about the place of robots as human beings. Would they have all the rights of a human or would they have some fraction like the 3/5 voting rights proposed for slaves by the Constitutional Convention of 1787? We seem to have such a good track record of integration and inclusion in this country, it seems strangely natural that we would not even be the ones having this discussion. Europe is far ahead of us on matters of understanding and regulating the role of this new technology, asking questions that we do not seem yet to acknowledge as issues. We can only hope that the robots that we give human status will be better humans than we seem to be.
Recently, the news has been filled with the FDA’s approval of a drug that carries within it a small sensor that documents that the pill has been taken. Essentially the pill, once taken, would be sent to a patch worn by the pill taker and then the data would be sent to one’s cell phone, announcing that the medication had been taken. While it would take between thirty minutes and two hours for the pill to report that it had been taken it still has the ability to transmit information. While at this time it would only be the fact that the pill has been taken but what about other information that it could transmit. While it may seem silly now, what if it could transmit our location so that marketers could target marketing to our us possibly based on what we had eaten or if it has been a while since we ate.
By tracking our location we could be inviting big brother to know our every move. What if this pill also created a trackable response in us perhaps it makes us hungry or ill after a certain period of time and only a certain product would relieve the hunger or pain. While it may seem crazy, it wasn’t too long ago when we found that cigarette companies were knowingly creating products that could kill us but still went ahead and added addictive chemicals to increase their addictive nature and their bottom line. While I believe technology can be a great tool, we seem to have the habit of dropping it into the wrong hands and then being shocked when we find we have let ourselves be taken advantage of by those we believe to have our best interests at heart. Surely we can’t be naive forever.
If I remember correctly, in the closing lines of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote, “we hold these truths to be self-evident”. Now, while the quote goes on, I find it interesting this idea of somethings Self-evidence; the idea that something is known to be true by understanding its meaning without proof. It seems self-evident that people have rights though we may argue as to the breadth and depth of those rights and that machines, as non-human, non-feeling entities do not. This notion was challenged when I saw an article in the BBC about the appearance of a woman robot in Riyadh Saudi Arabia at the Future Investment Initiative conference. Sophia, as she is known, was given Saudi citizenship but she was allowed to appear without the traditional headscarf and abaya, the cloak that Saudi women are obliged to wear in public. Of course, social media pundits leapt to their keyboards noting that not only had this electronic “woman” not only been granted citizenship but had rights that Saudi women only dream of. Here was a woman speaking alone on a stage where under the Saudi Guardianship system every woman must be accompanied by a male companion who has authority to act on her behalf. It seems as if Saudi Arabia had become the Manor Farm for the day where all women were equal except that those women who were silicon-based were more equal than those of a mere carbon base.
While it may seem laughable now, it is not impossible to imagine that we could create a world in which computers would have more rights than some or maybe even all people. We seem to delight in ways that we can segregate and remove ourselves from those who we deem somehow different or less than us but now we seem to have taken that talent to a whole new level. We could create machines to look down on us- maybe outsource our racism so that we would be free to pursue more noble goals? While it may seem absurd, there are some of us who remember when the idea of an actor as president was a punchline and not a reality.
While it may have been a realty to be in two places at one time for St Gerard, the idea of bi-location seems to be coming back into fashion. The hagiographical concept seems to have returned in the idea of quantum entanglement, basically instead of sending information, you’ll create pairs of photons that mirror one another. This is quantum entanglement. You’ll keep one of the photons, send someone else the other entangled photon, and then anything you do to your photon instantly happens to the other person’s photon.
Painting a smiley face on your photon would result in a smiley face appearing on the other photon — no matter where it was. It’s sort of like the vanishing cabinet in Harry Potter but for data. It seems that we are on a quest not only to have all knowledge at our fingertips but all space and eventually time at our disposal. It seems as if we have given everyone the ability to read the story of Icarus but the point has been lost.
Recently I heard about an NPR podcast how computers are now using big data to make predictions about our behavior. This may mean tracking the number of cars in a shopping center parking lot to see how it correlates with activities or sales in the mall. It seems that computers can watch what we do, make a prediction as to our behavior and market to us to satisfy our need before we know what we need or want. As soon as companies can begin to predict our behavior they will be there to market to us for profit. It seems that our only way for people to hold on to our humanity will be to be unpredictable. Our constancy seems to be something that will turn us into machines that the machines we create will understand.
As the namesake of this blog was fond of saying, media is an extension of our human nervous system and as such is neither good or bad, but a tool for us to use to learn and grow. Basically, radio is an extension of our voice, the telephone an extension of our hearing etc. With the advent of the internet and social media, it seems that our consciousness can be everywhere at once. As drones become cheaper and more accessible, it seems that our media vision can now see farther than ever before. With the addition of artificial reality and phones that allow us to immerse ourselves in a reality almost anywhere in the world or where we send our drones to look. This reminded me of a section of Neale Donald Walsch’s “Conversations With God” where he speaks of his belief that, to know itself, the creative force split itself into millions of pieces which were planted in us so that we could look back on the universe and experience it from outside the creative consciousness. As we move forward with our innovation, expanding our experiential presence of the world, are we not setting ourselves on a trajectory similar to one that many believe created ourselves.
While the idea of artificial intelligence is nothing new, it was still surprising to see the article, “MEPs vote on robots’ legal status” addressing the possibility of granting legal rights to robots with artificial intelligence or electronic persons. While this in itself seems like a mind-boggling thought, it is also being debated if these electronic people should come with kill switches, which would shut down the robot if the situation were required. Beyond the disturbing thought that robots would have legal status the same as their human counterparts, the thought of a kill switch brings up a more disturbing question.
The idea of what has legal rights also extends to a corporation, legally they can spend money in candidate elections, and that some for-profit corporations may, on religious grounds, refuse to comply with a federal mandate to cover birth control in their employee health plans. Would we extend these rights to an electronic person? Could their rights be covered under the bill of rights? While it may seem absurd, 40 years ago the idea of an electronic entity with the rights of a person would have been seemed absurd too.
And what of the question of a kill switch? Having just come through a time when corporations were considered too big to fail, why would we not deem our electronic persons too important to shut down or too large to kill?