Writer’s note 1: This article is inspired by the recent visit to Thailand of “Sophia”, and the absolute certainty that the dizzying pace of technological advancement will render the robot marvel of today a five-year-old girl’s doll in no time.
A long, long time ago, three “designers” gather to brainstorm ideas for a new product. Here is part of their conversation:
Designer A: I’m sick of all this artificial intelligence nonsense. I mean, how many AI products do they want us to create?
Designer B: That’s why they gave us specific instructions for this one.
Designer C: Yes, they want AI in its most extreme form, one which can think, reproduce, feel, and, of course, won’t live forever no matter how good the batteries.
Designer B: I guess they want an ultimate AI that dies, so the AI itself won’t know that it’s AI. I think the instruction makes sense.
Designer C: Exactly. And the ability to die is just one part of the whole plan. First things first, this product mustn’t be metallic.
Designer A: That’s easy. We have plenty of “skins” that we want to try. And for the insides, new tech is being created every day to replace old-fashioned wires.
Designer B: The reproduction part is easy, too. And we can programme them to believe they are being driven to “do it” by feelings. They can call it “love” or “lust” or whatever.
Designer C: As for the battery issue, we should make the charging process a bit unconventional. It will be sunlight, of course, but stored in different sources. They will “eat” these sources without knowing that they are actually charging their batteries.
Designer B: The tricky part is how to make them truly special. The unique charging process, non-metallic skins and super-complex internal mechanism are all great, but I think we need more than that.
Designer C: How about enabling them to linger on after the battery dies? It would be difficult but it can
be done. We can design them with “two layers”, which require different sources of energy. The outer layer needs sunlight, of course, but the inner layer will need something else.
Designer A: Are you saying that this product needs two types of battery?
Designer C: Yes, one charged by what they eat, and the other by, possibly, what they do. We can decide later about the nature of this second battery.
Designer A: How exactly can we make the product “linger” after the first battery expires?
Designer C: The product will enter a new “form”. It will be like the original shape but without a shell. We can even make the new “form” invisible to the naked eye.
Designer B: That is some artificial intelligence! Let’s give them the best sensory circuits available so there is no question about self-awareness.
Designer C: Yes, they must be convinced they have intelligence but without the artificial part.
Designer A: You mean we want them to be smart and stupid at the same time?
Designer B: Let’s just say we will design them to be always wondering. It’s better to be ignorant but constantly thinking than to be wise and no longer curious.
Designer A: I think we’ve got all the basic ideas covered. Anything else to add, guys?
Designer C: Well, maybe we should programme them to create AIs of their own. That would be the final nail in their I’m-not-a-robot coffin. They can call their creation “Sophia” or something like that.
Designer B: Brilliant. Let’s programme them to be afraid of it too. Better still, let’s make them afraid and curious at the same time, meaning that, despite themselves, they will keep developing … what did you say its name was?
Designer C: Sophia.
Designer A: That’s very cool. But what if Sophia becomes more and more advanced and thus threatens our product?
Designer B: Well, if our creations turn out to be as good as we want them to be, they will worry about that first. In other words, we won’t need to worry for them; they will worry for us.
Designer A: Whoa, you guys are starting to make me nervous! How can we be sure we’re not somebody else’s product? And it could go all the way up the chain.
The brainstorming session ends here, with the three designers confident in their upcoming product but considerably less sure of themselves.
Writer’s note 2: I sincerely apologise if this article offends anybody’s spiritual beliefs. Science and religion have always clashed over the origin of man. It is my honest opinion, though, that they clash probably because human beings tend to give different names to what are essentially the same things.