I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Meet the Replicants

Meet the Replicants

Manus Charleton
Time was when we were amazed that a calculator could do our mental arithmetic. In computer-speak the smartphone is now referred to as “a personal assistant” and its operating software as its “brain”. It can be programmed to do everyday tasks automatically, such as making coffee or switching on or off lights or heating, and voice-receptive smartphones can be asked to do this as required. Increasingly, smartphones will be able to know about us as individuals, about our interests, habits and customs. Their software systems are able to learn from how they function in our interaction with them and adjust their responses. This gives them a capacity to operate with a degree of autonomy. In the Financial Times of June 3rd/4th, 2017, Ben Bajarin, a Silicone Valley researcher, saw smartphones as becoming “proactively intelligent”. Erica (see Guardian video of April 7th, 2017) is a woman-sized android that has a degree of body movement and is capable of engaging in basic conversation. Its design team aims to understand the structure of how people interact with each other and then reproduce it in an android to such an extent that we might, it seems, scarcely notice its difference from a person. This includes developing the android’s autonomy, not just so it can learn from experience but also have intentions and desires. This of course is still at the far outer edge of what might be achievable, still science fiction. Hal was an early fictional example, the malfunctioning (disobedient? rogue?) computer with the cheerily informal name but eerily controlling voice that ran the spaceship’s operating system in Stanley Kubrick’s1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. But in what as yet unknown direction might self-learning and proactively intelligent robots be developed, and what effect might they have on how we perceive and value our own intelligence and consciousness? Research backed by large financial investment, such as Google’s DeepMind project, is forging ahead to turn the fiction into fact and reproduce human intelligence in androids that approximate to humans. From one point of view it might seem just a further technological development to add to those that have already impacted on our sense of what it means to be human and brought benefits as well as risks. A development no different in essence from others for which fears were expressed, but which we’ve learnt to live with while maintaining a sense of our distinctive self. The camera didn’t steal the souls…

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