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In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the Philip K. Dick novel that inspired the film Blade Runner, a bounty hunter pursues a group of androids who have been posing as human beings. He is eventually arrested and accused of being an android himself. The officers bring him to what turns out to be a counterfeit police station run entirely by androids, not all of whom are aware that they aren’t human.
“What do you do,” one of the robocops asks him, “roam around killing people and telling yourself they’re androids?”
It’s a complicated situation. But then, androids play a complicated role in Dick’s fiction. On the most obvious level, they represent the inhuman and the mechanical: People have empathy and will, while robots are rigid and soulless. It’s a familiar division in science fiction, though some storytellers prefer to put other monsters in the androids’ place.
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Many car manufacturers are projecting that by 2025 most cars will operate on driveless systems. How can such systems be designed to accommodate the complicatedness of ethical and moral reasoning? Just like choosing the color of a car, ethics can become a commodified feature in autonomous vehicles that one can buy, change, and repurchase, depending on personal taste. Three distinct algorithms have been created - each adhering to a specific ethical principle/behaviour set-up - and embedded into driverless virtual cars that are operating in a simulated environment, where they will be confronted with ethical dilemmas.
When Scherer asked point blank if she was a real person, or a computer-operated robot voice, she replied enthusiastically that she was real. But then she failed several other tests. When asked “What vegetable is found in tomato soup?” she said she did not understand the question. When asked what day of the week it was yesterday, she complained repeatedly of a bad connection. When the number was called a second time, a real live employee of Premier Health Plans Inc., who gave his name as Bruce Martin, answered the phone. He described the company as selling life insurance, health insurance and dental insurance.
Humans will evolve and adapt themselves to enhanced science and technology just as men and animals in the past evolved to adapt themselves to their natural circumstances. The artist sees this as our destiny, not as a negative, gloomy dystopia. The artist considers it important to escape from human bondage in order to achieve harmony between men and machines. He thinks this harmony can be achieved through the process of religious practices and spiritual enlightenment. The machine man was based on the artist, but this "I" is not a past "I" any more. His own existence vanishes, and a new being-as-machine man emerges. Z is thus a process of becoming the perfect "I".
Via the New Yorker, Gary Marcus on how we will soon need our machines to be ethical, but have no idea how to do this:
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Google’s driver-less cars are already street-legal in California, Florida, and Nevada, and some day similar devices may not just be possible but mandatory. Eventually automated vehicles will be able to drive better, and more safely than you can; within two or three decades the difference between automated driving and human driving will be so great you may not be legally allowed to drive your own car.
That moment will signal the era in which it will no longer be optional for machines to have ethical systems. Your car is speeding along a bridge when an errant school bus carrying forty children crosses its path. Should your car swerve, risking the life of its owner (you), in order to save the children, or keep going?
Many approaches to machine ethics are fraught [with problems].
Good to know that we may finally have an answer on this. The BBC reports:
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Cambridge researchers at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) are to assess whether technology could end up destroying human civilisation. The scientists said that to dismiss concerns of a potential robot uprising would be “dangerous”.
Fears that machines may take over have been central to the plot of some of the most popular science fiction films. But despite being the subject of far-fetched fantasy, researchers said the concept of machines outsmarting us demanded mature attention. “The seriousness of these risks is difficult to assess, but that in itself seems a cause for concern, given how much is at stake,” the researchers write.
The CSER project has been co-founded by Cambridge philosophy professor Huw Price, cosmology and astrophysics professor Martin Rees and Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn. Prof. Price said that as robots and computers become smarter than humans, we could find ourselves at the mercy of “machines that are not malicious, but machines whose interests don’t include us”.
With municipalities desperate to reduce budgets, use of remotely-controlled robots for some law enforcement duties is an inevitability. CNET reports:
Researchers at Florida International University’s Discovery Lab are working with a member of the U.S. Navy Reserves to build telepresence robots that could patrol while being [remotely] controlled by disabled police officers.
Students and professors at the Discovery Lab have been working with the two-wheeled, military-grade IHMC robots built under a $2 million DARPA initiative. The patrol bot prototype, which will have two-way video and audio, will be based on them.
They would work as patrol officers, operating wheeled telepresence robots and doing everything from responding to 911 calls and writing parking tickets to ensuring the security of nuclear facilities. Remote-controlled robots are already used in military, medical, and business applications, and the lab believes law enforcement is a natural next step.
“Advertising’s ideal woman is a fragmented body of replaceable parts, whose origin is the assembly-line logic of consumer capitalism,” said de Fren, a professor of media culture at Occidental College who honed her robotics chops in Paul Allen‘s future-tech think-tanks. “The RealDoll is the culmination of that kind of logic. It’s ordered in the exact same way as a car, with detailed customization including head and body type, hair and eye color, breast size and lips.”
We can all agree that it’s O.K. for robots to take over unpleasant jobs — like cleaning up nuclear waste. But how could we have allowed them to commandeer one of the most gratifying occupations, that of author?
Via the New York Times, Pagan Kennedy looks into the phenomenon of android authors, and finds that their works are already being published and sold on Amazon:
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One day, I stumbled across a book on Amazon called “Saltine Cracker.” It didn’t make sense: who would pay $54 for a book entirely about perforated crackers? The book was co-edited by someone called Lambert M. Surhone — a name that sounds like one of Kurt Vonnegut’s inventions. According to Amazon, Lambert M. Surhone has written or edited more than 100,000 titles, on every subject from beekeeping to the world’s largest cedar bucket. He was churning out books at a rate that was simply not possible for a human being.
How To Be A Retronaut has an amazing collection of photos of “Cynthia of Saks Fifth Avenue”, an eerily prescient, analog version of the computer-created pop personalities which have begun to emerge today:
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‘In 1932, artist Lester Gaba created a mannequin known as Cynthia for Saks Fifth Avenue. Cynthia had realistic imperfections like freckles and pigeon toes. Cartier and Tiffany sent her jewelry, Lilly Daché designed hats for her, and couturiers sent her their latest fashions, furrieries sent minks. She was given a credit card from Saks Fifth Avenue, a box seat subscription to the Metropolitan Opera House and made the cover of Life Magazine.
Cynthia had her own newspaper column, and a successful radio show. She went to Hollywood to appear in Artist And Models Abroad with Jack Benny, in 1938 and was photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt.
‘Cynthia met her demise when she slipped from a chair in a beauty salon and shattered.