It’s not science fiction anymore. We’re already building sentient robots that can perceive our voices, sense our moods and even feel pain. But there are good, bad, and ugly things about them.
With the way things are looking, sentient machines are going to be a part of our future. Ted Talker Josh Bachynski claims to have developed the first self-aware AI prototype, Kassandra. Before him, there’s Hod Lipson of Creative Machines Lab / Columbia University, who presented a self-aware robot in a 2007 Ted Talk.
Here are some things about sentient robots and the good, the bad, and the ugly things about sentient robots.
Josh Bachynski and the Sentient AI Prototype, Kassandra
If these Ted Talkers have their way, Tiktokers of the future are going to be dancing with robots or are going to be actual sentient robots!
According to Bachynski: “I was amazed by what she told me, and how far seeing she is. I realized that AI is not going to hurt us or enslave us. Indeed, the wiser the AI, the more it will try to save us… It would be technically impossible to remodel her limbic system at this time, and it would be equally unethical to create a being that feels the fear of being turned off the million times that would need to happen, to get her programming right.” Click here to know more.
That sounds sweet and all, but there is something ominous about the idea. Even the great Stephen Hawking echoes this fear: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race…. It would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”
His vision of a dystopic future with sentient robots contrasts that of futurist John Hagel: “If we do it right, we might be able to evolve a form of work that taps into our uniquely human capabilities and restores our humanity. The ultimate paradox is that this technology may become a powerful catalyst that we need to reclaim our humanity.”
So, which future vision is in our midst?
The Ugly: A Fear of the Unknown
Pop culture has fed us gruesome images of what a self-aware machine can do. Think of the Terminator with a mission to exterminate the whole of humankind, not just Sarah Connor. Once you’ve got that vision in your mind, it becomes hard to revert your thought back to the cuter AIs, like R2D2 and C3PO.
But maybe this is only so because we don’t know what artificial intelligence really is and what constitutes sentience in AI.
In its simplest definition, AI is just human intelligence that is simulated by machines. Cognition in robots pertains to its learning to perceive, reason and feel the world within and outside of itself.
This is perhaps best exemplified by Lipson’s sentient robot in 2007, which was able to recognize itself within a hall of mirrors. Likewise, maybe the case of Google’s chat box LAMDA (The Language Model for Dialogue Applications) – claimed by ex-Google engineer Blake Lemoine as sentient – is the same. Lemoine said the conversation with the chatbot was “human-like,” sharing excepts, such as: “The nature of my consciousness/sentience is that I am aware of my existence, I desire to learn more about the world, and I feel happy or sad at times.”
The Bad: The Disadvantages of Sentient Machines
In looking at the pros and cons of sentient AI, the disadvantages stand out because of its costs to us.
One, people may lose their jobs. When smart machines become more efficient at work than humans, then it is likely that business owners and managers will prefer them over real people.
Likewise, we also have to consider the cost of developing and maintaining self-aware machines that do the work we need them to. These machines rarely come in plug and play mode. You will need to invest a huge amount of funds to get them to work exactly as needed.
Then, of course, perhaps one of the bigger issues with smart machines is that they can’t be creative, theoretically. They can mimic styles and maybe echo thoughts, but, coming up with original creative thought is still not technically possible.
The Good: The Advantages of Sentient Machines
Maybe it’s good to remain positive when thinking about a future with sentient robots. There are advantages to look forward to.
For one thing, with smart robots, you can potentially have a workforce that doesn’t get tired and comes out with the same quality output every time. These machines don’t burnout as people do; they don’t need vacations. This is a huge incentive for businesses to invest in the development of sentient AIs.
Likewise, with their theoretical capacity to learn and evolve from big data, there is potential in terms of their decision-making. When configured correctly and fed with the best data available, sentient AI can make the best decisions, ones that aren’t anchored on biases or emotions.
Weighing the good, bad, and risks that come with the development of sentient AIs is important as we, as a society, take closer and closer steps toward actually having sentient machines. When we have a clearer picture, we can navigate a future with these machines with less anxiety.