Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

The Humanoids Are Coming


There are three major needs for humanoid robots. In order of likely implementation, the they are companionship, representation, and embodiment. The first may seem obvious, but the other two require considerable elaboration.

Companionship (and beyond) is already being marketed for robots that physically resemble humans. However, a companion that too closely resembles a human could create legal complications, e.g., marriage.

The owner of a companion robot wants to experience the human resemblance. To anyone else, the companion must be perceived as a humanoid robot. What will be the technological solution?

Humanoid robots as representatives are different. These do not simply function as servants, but rather as agents for their owners. Again, such devices are already on the market, e.g., the Double Telepresence Robot

While far from humanoid (it is little more than wheels and a vertical post carrying an iPad), the Double demonstrates the minimum necessary package to function as humanoid. Although limited to what the iPad can do, the Double can take your place at meetings, conferences, and similar gatherings.

The third category is far more problematical, both in implementation and actual potential. Embodiment means the humanoid robot embodies a person’s downloaded consciousness.

The uploading of consciousness may be a goal for some, but the methods to achieve it are still too vague to be assigned a probability. However, if it could be accomplished why not an occasional downloaded embodiment?

But how close to human form does it need to be? The embodied consciousness may want an exact duplicate of his or her former body. What is its legal status? Is it robot or artificial human? Does it have the rights of the embodied?

We are more comfortable attributing human characteristics to non-humans than dealing with things that may or may not be human. Both psychologically and legally, we need to know what’s human—and what’s not.

If we can’t prevent the robot makers from making robots that pass for human, why not pass laws requiring every robot to have a transponder (like aircraft) that identifies them as a robot? Of course, we’ll need to have an app to detect them.

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