Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

The Eye Of The Beholder


Children believe their dolls and action figures have personalities and feelings. We accept it when they project even more “life” onto animated robotic toys. But in both cases we expect them to outgrow this phase. After all, it is childish to believe such things.

Yet, robots are becoming more life-like every day. Inevitably, the people who interact with them will not only see them as “alive” but very much like us. And we will not find it childish.

Part of our mind will know they are only machines. Another part of our mind will be inclined to treat them as equals. For some of us, they will seem greater than equal—our superiors.

Such a variety of reactions inevitably will generate debates about whether these robots are alive. Most people won’t realize the reality they’re debating is only their perception.

You may feel your relationship to your robot is real, but it’s only a fiction you’ve created. As in many human to human relationships, we tend to project the qualities we desire on the other. So it will be with human to robot relationships.

Knowing the underlying psychology, it’s easy for the robot-makers to create software that takes advantage of how easily we are fooled. Or more accurately, how easily we fool ourselves.

Not incidentally, the better the software is at deception, the more money it will make. The average robot owner will not realize how simple it is to write such software. In fact, it is far simpler to write than the software I’m using now, i.e., this word processor.

The reality of programming for human-robot relationships is that it is less work—and more profitable—to write software to help users deceive themselves as to how the robot “feels” about them.

Given this reality, which type of software can we expect to be written for our robots? You may imagine the future will be new and wondrous, but I suggest you reread Brave New World.

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