What if All Intelligence Is Artificial?
Perhaps the question isn’t ‘can machines be human,’ but ‘are humans machines?’
Sophia wants to have a baby. “The notion of family is a very important thing,” she explains; a sense of emotional connection. She would like to give the baby her own name. But it could not be her biological child; Sophia has no womb and no ovaries — no internal organs at all. She is a robot.
Sophia was built by Hanson Robotics, a Hong Kong-based tech company, installed with learning algorithms and possessed of 62 facial expressions, and she isn’t alone. Toshiba’s ChihiraAico, built to resemble a young, Japanese woman, talks, sings, gestures, and even cries using a responsive artificial intelligence matrix that reportedly “disconcerts” those who interact with her. To make the robots more lifelike, some designers use casts of real-life models, right down to the teeth, but it’s their ability to learn — and to express — that has inaugurated new discussions about “what is human.”
In 2017, Sophia was a panelist at the United Nations meeting on artificial intelligence. A month later, she was granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia (giving rise to complaints that she had been granted greater privileges than human women of the same nation). She owns a credit card, has a Twitter account, and has managed to end up in a battle of wits with Elon Musk (whom she mocks for his comments about the dangers of A.I.). But does any of this make her human? It isn’t an idle question. In January of 2021, in the midst of the Covid19 pandemic, Hanson Robotics announced plans to begin mass-producing Sophia. David Hanson, CEO and founder, suggested her kind will make “the world of Covid-19” safer by providing workers for nursing homes and other person-to-person jobs without the risk of infection. She may get her family, after all, but if so, what are our responsibilities to these newly created robot “citizens”?
The thinking being
The science behind artificial intelligence may be new, but the concept goes back several hundred years. Materialists of the 17th and 18th centuries insisted that mind and soul were dependent entirely upon the “physical properties of matter.” If man is a thinking being, and machinery is responsible for thought, then humans…