Hyper Evolution: Rise of the Robots (Part 1.1)
Painted face

Written by admin

Jan 25, 2020

January 25, 2020

This blog is a transcription of the BBC documentary “Hyper Evolution: Rise of the Robots” and is part of my research on robotics in preparation for the Open University TM129 module ‘Technologies in Practice’.

‘In labs across the world we are creating advance robots. They are developing so rapidly that it is like the arrival of a new species. What has taken humans millennia, robots have achieved in just decades. They look like us, move like us and now they are beginning to think like us.

“I am dr. Ben Garrett, an evolutionary biologist, more used to study humans and animals, I am genuinely concerned by how quickly these machines are evolving.” “I am professor Daniel George. As an electronics engineer, I spend a lot of my working life with robots. I think their rapid development provides an incredible opportunity for us all.” Robots are changing our world. In this program we will investigate why we are obsessed with recreating ourselves, whether robots really will take our jobs and if their rapid development will make them outperform humans. Will the rise of robots enhance our lives or threaten our survival.

We already share our planet with nine robots. They are multiplying rapidly whether we like it or not. “We’ve come to a laboratory in southern France where one of the latest members of this new species is about to come to life. For me every technological breakthrough, every new robot is a step forward.” “I am very happy studying animal skeletons, but I find this robot quite unnerving. As an evolutionary biologist what concerns me is that the impact of robots will be so monumental, they could threaten humanity. We’ve evolved over hundreds of thousands if not millions of years, these things are just bulldozing their way through and what point will that stop.” “The faster we can go with this, the better and I’m all for it.”

To discover how robots really really will affect our future, we are going to consider them from a biological perspective. We will investigate the evolution of robots as if they really are an emerging species. We’ll try to track down the earliest robot specimens and meet their modern-day descendants to reveal where the species is heading and what that means for us all. “I find it really disturbing  that so many robots have a human-like form.”

 

Compressions and Rarefactions
fig.1 Erica
Image by Fightthefuture.blog, 2018

“To confront my fears, I’ve come to Japan to find out why we create robots in our own image. I am on my way to meet one that is the pinnacle of human form. I’m told, she is the most beautiful robot ever created. She lives in Nara, Japan’s ancient capital. I am off to meet Erica. And as someone who is a little bit twitchy around robots, I’m rather nervous. I hope she likes me.”

This is Erica, one of the most human-like machines in the world. Erica’s creator is professor Hiroshi Ishiguro. I am captivated by Erica. Professor Ishiguro created her according to his concept of beauty.

His team combined images of 30 real women using computer graphics. There is a lot of activity going on around Erica, but when she starts to speak to me, she is fully autonomous. No one is pressing any buttons or telling her what to say. “It is just Erica and me. Sitting here with Erica feels a bit disconcerting and unnatural. I know she is not a person, but I can’t help looking into her eyes which must be because she looks human.” Erica’s facial expressions are created by dozens of pneumatic air cylinders that act like muscles embedded beneath her silicon skin. “Remarkably, this is a genuine conversation.” Erica reacts to what I say instantly and independently. She may have been pre-programmed to respond to key words in my questions, but the exceptional thing is that when Erica is chatting away, she is gathering fresh data. With every conversation, her interactions become more sophistaced, more natural and more human. I am pretty bold over by Erica’s human-like appearance and I’m shocked by how much she hooked me into a conversation, but I am not convinced by professor Ishiguro’s belief  that Erica can be programmed to express emotions. Prof. Ishiguro thinks that emotional expression is programmable and it might look like she has feelings or is experiencing happiness or joy or love.

Erica may not be able to express emotions yet, but as she learns from her conversations, she is beginning to develop a personality. One of Professor Ishiguro’s team, professor Dillon Glass is the architect of Erica’s mind. “We have several thousand speech behaviours and face motions and things like that linked together in a big hierarchical flowchart to kind of create the robot’s mind and it is  not just a script, it takes data and puts them into her memory, so her memory is always being updated with what’s being talked about, what’s the history, what did she learn about the person and you can use that to craft different interactions later on.” “Do you feel an affinity with Erica? Do  you acknowledge her or is she just a piece of equipment?” “It is a strange feeling to describe, because I am proud when she does well, but on the other hand, you can just plug her in and so, in that sense it feels like a piece of equipment. I think that when social robots become a part of our world, something we are all gonna have to wrestle with is this idea that it is not a person, but it is not a machine or a thing, it is this new category of things in between.”

Professor Ishiguro created Erica because he believes robots enhance society. Making robots like Erica appear human, friendly and helpful, allows them to build positive and purposeful relationships with people.” For someone like me who is so wary of robots, this is a bizarre concept. To help me understand his obsession with lifelike, but artificial machines, he wants to show me another of his creations, something he has literally designed in his own image: the geminoid, made in 2009.

 

 

 

Compressions and Rarefactions
fig.2 Ishiguro and his geminoid
Image by Stafford, A., 2016

“Do you feel any affinity with it/him?” “No, he is a kind of twin brother” “One of you is going to age. What will you do when you look different from him?” “Honestly speaking, I am doing some light plastic surgery that makes my face younger.” “In your mind, what separates humans from robots?” “Nothing!” I find this conversation pretty mind-blowing. Why would he go to the extreme of having plastic surgery to keep looking like his robot twin and how can he believe there is no distinction between humans and robots? “Does your android have a lifespan?” “The important idea is that we Japanese believe that everything has a soul. We never distinguish between humans and others, others as in the meaning of robots and computers.” Many Japanese people believe man-made objects can possess the spirit of of a human. It’s known as animism. Japan has embraced robots like nowhere else. It is a real love affair. The belief that objects we make can possess the spirit of a human is deeply rooted in Japan’s religion. These traditional beliefs could help explain Japan’s desire to create friendly, human-like robots and treat them as equals. In Japan’s reverence for robots, the ancient and modern go hand-in-hand. In the west we have less empathy for robots. In fact, many us openly mistrust them. There is a mentality that first they’ll take our jobs and they’ll take control of our lives. From my experience so far in Japan, it seems like that mentality simply doesn’t exist.

Jack (2018). Legal personhood for robots in Europe? [online] Fightthefuture.blog. Available at: https://www.fightthefuture.blog/2018/08/12/legal-personhood-for-robots-in-europe [Accessed 25 Jan. 2020].

References:

Jack (2018). Legal personhood for robots in Europe? [online] Fightthefuture.blog. Available at: https://www.fightthefuture.blog/2018/08/12/legal-personhood-for-robots-in-europe [Accessed 25 Jan. 2020].

Stafford, A. (2016). Android clone v human: will you be able to tell the difference at work? [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/nov/03/android-clone-v-human-will-you-be-able-to-tell-the-difference-at-work.
BBC Documentary – Hyper Evolution : Rise Of The Robots (Part 1). (2018). YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRuBZLe8vfs [Accessed 26 Jan. 2020].

Jack (2018). Legal personhood for robots in Europe? [online] Fightthefuture.blog. Available at: https://www.fightthefuture.blog/2018/08/12/legal-personhood-for-robots-in-europe [Accessed 25 Jan. 2020].

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A multi-lingual and highly-motivated Virtual Assistant/Bookkeeper and Web Designer, specialised in Word Press, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, Microsoft Office Applications and Sage Accountancy Software.

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