Sunday 28 January 2007

Aye, Robots

An interesting conjunction. From Space Daily :
U.S. scientists say they plan to create a new class of technology designed to produce completely soft-bodied robots. Tufts University researchers say such robots -- based on biological materials and the adaptive mechanisms found in living cells and organisms -- could repair space stations, conduct safer surgical procedures and work in hazardous environments such as landmine fields.
Clearing Landmines? Perhaps not. From the BBC :
Robots could one day demand the same citizen's rights as humans, according to a study by the British government.

If granted, countries would be obliged to provide social benefits including housing and even "robo-healthcare", the report says.

The predictions are contained in nearly 250 papers that look ahead at developments over the next 50 years.
The paper which addresses Robo-rights, titled Utopian dream or rise of the machines? examines the developments in artificial intelligence and how this may impact on law and politics.

The paper says a "monumental shift" could occur if robots develop to the point where they can reproduce, improve themselves or develop artificial intelligence.

The research suggests that at some point in the next 20 to 50 years robots could be granted rights.

If this happened, the report says, the robots would have certain responsibilities such as voting, the obligation to pay taxes, and perhaps serving compulsory military service.

Conversely, society would also have a duty of care to their new digital citizens, the report says.

It also warns that the rise of robots could put a strain on resources and the environment.
20 years? Even 50? Barring some totally inherently unpredictable breakthrough (like discovering FTL and contacting aliens who are thousands of years agead of us) No Way.

I've blogged about brains, cyborgs and hybrots since the first day this blog was published, back in July 2003. We've made enormous strides in understanding how individual neurons work, and even small subassemblies of the brain. Dynamic MRI promises to increase our understanding of how the human brain works enormously.
But as for the nature of consciousness? How do you train an Artificial Intelligence to become a person, what mixture of hardwired instinct and learned behaviour do you need... that's another matter. There are human bodies with brains that are almost normal, yet they are not people, they're vegetative, with no higher cognitive functions, they don't even think as much as an earthworm does. Until we can understand what happens in these cases, and how to fix it, we can't train an AI into personhood. For an AI is not made, it's grown.

1 comment:

Ian Parker said...

Look, you don't need soft bodied robots to do repair jobs or clear mines. All that is needed is a robot that understands basic CAD/CAM (STEPS is a universal language) instuctions and has a pattern recognition capability + knowledge of engineering Physics.

In fact if we can assemble flatpacks as Andrew Ng at Stanford is researching we are basically there.

The next step would be to construct a Von Neumann machine - or strictly speaking a VN swarm. A self replicating entity.

In fact the main point of a soft body is in fact sex. For everything else you would want to use the most durable componants you can get. If you want to build large structures in space you need a space capable VN.

A problem with space exploration today is that you send something to Mars, a small part goes wrong and the whole mission is useless. Sending a redundant swarm to Mars is a much smarter thing to do.

Does self replication demand intelligence? Is it proof of intelligence? No Chorella can do that but is not intelligent. To do something useful hopwever you need AI at some level as you need CAD/CAM (STEPS) understanding. A VN machine needs to be able to build any compliant object.

As for robot rights - this was proposed by a British government think tank. Of far more immediate effect is connected databases giving the government access to all our secrets. Perhaps robot rights is simply a smokescreen. I am veryy cynical about Blair and the British government.