What does it really mean to be alive ?
Do you ever get the feeling that modern -life is becoming a very complicated business? It may not seem that way for those who never read anything, of course. For example, I heard radio presenter Stephen Nolan on the radio recently, saying that he never reads books …ever. He simply never did and the habit didn’t catch on. I found it an astonishing thing to say ,really , for anyone who might want to educate their mind and especially for someone whom you might expect to have a good grounding in many different schools of thought; someone like Mr Nolan who is in the public eye and might be expected to know a lot of things about some very diverse subjects. Of course , no-one can know everything , but the tiny details of things are usually found within the covers of books. How would you learn anything new if you simply relied on what is fed to you soley by radio and television…or come to that , the little bit that has been taught in the narrow agendas and strait-jacketed curriculums of school-life. Surely ,you have to dig a bit deeper than that ?Schooling, for children is only the seedbed at the start of the journey, not the end result, surely .Like I said, there is so much still to learn. There’s not a day goes by since I was a small child ,that there hasn’t been at least two books being read in spare moments of the day.Sixty years of that and there’s still plenty to get through.
While they are busy arguing on the radio about something as inconsequential as the lawfullness ,or ottherwise ,of same -sex marriage for gay couples , the story is about to become even more complicated, so now might be the time to get up to speed with the current situation out there in the real world beyond the boundaries of the glass-domed fantasyland of Norneverland , Ireland.
I’ve been reading a lot about Davy Levy’s ideas on robotics ,recently .The idea of advanced robotics have always stirred the human imagination and has been a staple trope of science -fiction writing. That fascination has been tapped into in science-fiction films such as “2001, A Space Odyssey” and “Blade Runner” , both originally written as science-fiction novels, or more recently in “the Terminator” , “the Matrix”, “Automata” and “Ex Machina” . On television ,currently, series such as “Humans” and the revived ideas of the 1960’s film “Westworld”, also tap into this fascination.You might remember the late Yul Brynner as the malevolent android that ran out of control in the theme park.There was a time in the 1950’s and 1960’s when such things were simply pure science- fiction and soon forgotten as the pages of the Phillip K. Dick or Arthur C. Clarke book was closed, or when we left the cinema ‘s darkness and re-entered the real world outside. We can’t really do that anymore because what was once only a fantastical notion, dreamed behind the eyes ,is actually a reality now . Since then ,computers and inter-connectivity across the world ihas become an everyday fact of life and this has become a reality within a single generation. These notions , once locked between the covers of books, are now also reaching even greater audiences and are radically questioning what it actually means to be a conscious ,breathing human- being, living on a planet orbiting a sun. It questions what differentiates our animal minds and consciousness from the Artificially Intelligent (AI) minds that actually are now controlling our lives already , in other words.
Already we accept drones flying , spying and killing from the sky, albeit ,guided by human hand , at present ,but it is assured that the next generation of such things will actually be able to make decisions and choices for themselves. Human soldiers will be aided by machines initially , sculpted much like themselves ,complete with artificial “thinking” brains.Robotic self-driving cars are already a reality and will doubtless eventually fill the roads when they will drive more “perfectly” than any human being could ever manage; our banking is automated ; Amazon’s Artificial Intelligence is already able to proposition us with future ,personal choices to suit what they already “know” to be our specific needs and peccadilloes ; our smart phones can locate us at any location in the world and immediately translate any language for us ; we are already enmeshed in Artificial Intelligence and have a relationship with it without barely knowing how it has happened.
You might recall that I wrote only recently, that a computer was able to out-think and beat the world’s best “Go” player in the world ,to the consternation of the entire Asian diaspora and further afield.If you don’t know the significance of this “GO” defeat , you’d better check it out quickly.It means that the indefatigable brain of “the machine” can out -process and out-perform the weary blood -and -bone electrical -driven machinery of the human brain , electricity and- body combination. We’re also talking here about the very best of human brains and not the majority of those poor muddled persons who might never, ever , aspire to the intricicies and intellectual reckoning of the game “GO” at all.The machines think more quickly than any of us already and now they think even faster than the best of us. Just Google anything on your computer and see how quickly a myriad of answers are processed….stuff your poor brain could never remember .
The aforementioned Mr Levy is an expert in Artificial Intelligence(AI) and was discussing what the combination of natural language processing with , for example,advanced sex- dolls, might mean for greater society in the future and indeed the very present.Thirty years ago ,to even think along those lines would involve some visionary ideas and some thinking outside- the- box.Levy wrote a book in 2003 called “Robots Unlimited” which referenced a conversation in another book by Sherry Turkel in which an interviewee called “Anthony” told Turkel that although “he had tried having girlfriends, he actually preferred his relationship with his computer”.That made Mr Levy stop in his tracks and think those, until then, forbidden and unbidden thoughts.
Now we’ve all come to realise, over this past ten or fifteen years , just how much time is consumed by technology and how it already controls our lives.We see it all around us in everyday life and it is apparent that many people are deciding to spend much more time with their computers than to indulge in the natural world beyond.A few years ago it was not have been an option.Now it is a way of life . People can barely drive their cars without leaving their phones down.
This conversation about “Anthony” was an example of an otherwise intelligent person forming a “relationship” with technology rather than another living human being.A sense of “morality” didn’t even come into the equation.There was no sense of being unfaithful to the human -race or somehow “copping-out”.The man was simply being honest about his true feelings. We mightn’t like that but it is a fact of life.
Some people never actually form a relationship with another human companion , of course. They might spend their entire lives like that.There may be many reasons for this. They may be very incredibly shy or extremely ugly, for example , or possess no social skills to allow them to inter-act with someone on a physical level. Some might not even want a relationship in the first place, so they may seek solace elsewhere. There may not be time in their busy lives to form a relationship. This already happens in some parts of the world in places like Japan where cultural lifestyles and work can exclude such notions as leaving enough time to develop relationships. Elsewhere ,some others might treat pet animals as surrogate “children” or companions already,attaching human anthropomorphic qualities to them, so it’s not so far-fetched to believe that a human being might actually” fall in love” and form an attachment with a robotic , possibly “beautiful”, human -looking machine ,which to all intents ,looks and feels like an aesthetically beautiful human -being and can actually communicate and think like another human -being too , fulfilling all the personal and physical needs of that person.
That’s actually where we now appear to be .Already the robotics are well- advanced as is the building of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
A.D. Cheok, Professor of Pervasive Computing at London’s City University has been refining a device called a “Kissinger”.It is a set of pressure sensitive artificial lips that can transmit a kiss from a real mouth to a similar device owned by a partner who might live at the other side of the world.Both Levy and Cheok have teamed together to work on a new ‘chat agent’ –This is specific software that can understand and respond to natural human language and speech. The project is called “I-Friend” and will be based on artificial intelligence(AI) software that won Levy and his team the Loebner prize twice and as recently as 2009.This I-Friend, , can be configured for any kind of persona that the market requires.He says “It could, for example, be an upmarket toy such as a furry animal or a creature from another planet; or a web avatar that repeatedly turns the conversation to discuss a company and its products; or a mobile app such as a virtual girlfriend or boyfriend’.”
That’only a short step from incorporating such an idea into a robotic body ,built to be as perfectly formed in every possible way as the most attractive human beings on earth. If the artificially made “person” can also eventually build futher versions of itself , there would be little conceivable difference between this new creature than your average human being sporting artificial prosthetic limbs .
David Levy published a book in 2015 called “Love and Sex with Robots” which was his completion of research work done over many years about the interaction of modern humans and computers.His idea is that for those humans unable to form emotional and sexual relationships with other humans, they might find them with robots.There’s no doubt that at first sight this idea could look ridiculous and might make for much comedic material.The truth is that we usually make fun of the things that frighten us.
David Levy’s work continues research already begun in 1956 by the likes of Alan Turing , already famous for his German code-breaking during World War Two ,and of the now ,tragically dead ,Donald Michie ,who was the founding father of AI in the UK.Levy’s interest in chess programmes led to an interest in computers and programming and from that to Artificial Intelligence.The chess programmes were written to simulate human thought -processes ,but the chess programmes actually used different techniques which were not humanlike at all.This led to the notion that it would be interesting to see if there could be artificial people which we could talk to .It was tried as much as possible to make the programmes’s responses indistinguishable from those of humans.That led , naturally enough to wondering just how far a relationship like this could develop.This involved the notion of robot -emotion, love and even the sexual response.Many people on a world-wide scale, pay prostitutes to pretend that they are emotionally attached to them and ask them to possibly fake a relationship of sorts. They pay these prostitutes to do this on a regular basis. It is not actually a real emotional relationship but it has many of the same exchanges of a real relationship.
in Japan and South Korea ,the bare facts are that brothels already offer sex with elaborately made sex-dolls for the same rates as real human prostitutes. I know that it is difficult to believe , but it actually happens. That isn’t too far from humans performing sex with a robot .What if the sex-doll could actually think? What a lot of people using these sex-dolls actually wanted was a variety of partners.They could have whichever model they wanted , depending on their mood.These people did not actually want specific committment at all and they didn’t really want a relationship anyway.This is not simply some sleazy male fantasy either.Increasingly women are actually paying for their own sexual fantasies too. You could say that it’s an immoral fantasy that crosses the sexes, but obviously these people see no ethical or moralistic question at all.It simply is not an issue with them.The fact that two and a half million vibrators are sold to two and a half million annually in the UK ,tells its own story.for them , obviously, “morals” are not part of the scenario at all.
David Levy has no doubt that given the current debvelopments in robotics and AI ,that within forty years people will have no problem accepting beautiful android , human-like robots as friends , partners and also ,even lovers.There is already an acceptance across society in clone-like ideals of “beauty”, usually transformations enabled via the magic of extreme make-up , artificial fillers and ultimately plastic surgery.This process has already produced humans of cookie-cutter similarity and little individuality. In other words we are already being prepped to accept something that is not wholly natural or entirely human in our everyday lives.Botox has been the latest beauty- enhancing fad. It involves freezing facial muscles with poison.It will hardly be the last one of these fads.One hundred years years ago the idea of men marrying men and women marrying women would have been laughed away as a very odd notion .That is not the case today. Yes, some die-hards are still attempting to hold back these tides of human changes by quoting Biblical tracts .It’s a fact that it is impossibile to contain the imagination ,anyway. It is ceaseless in its curiousity.They also thought at one time that you’d die if you drove a motor -car any faster than a horse could run, after all.
Already there is an ongoing study of the actual ethics and morality of all of this.Would a thinking , sentient android/robot with all the fears , anxieties and emotions that we might share , have rights like those of humans, for example?What if the being could use language and could form concepts and abstract thinking? What if they could figure out how to improve themselves and possibly re-build themselves to live forever?It also asks the question as to what it really means to be alive at all and how “reality” is actually experienced.
If a human formed a complete relationship with such a new being , which is possible , considering what we’ve already discussed , there may come a point in the not too distant future, where the two may seek to marry in common -law.Some might find the very idea distasteful ,but then again , when has “taste” ever been the arbiter and guiding light for the majority of humanity? This brave new world in which AI already watches and even predicts our every action online , providing rapid answers to our every query and generally directing all our systems from banking to predicting our needs, is about to throw up some very interesting moral and legal conundrums too. How any of this will fly in Norneverland , Ireland is anyone’s guess, but it will be interesting to see how something like this new forth-coming inter-species marriage would go down, given that our First Minister has already been quoted as saying that , “Northern Ireland’s (Norneverland,SIC) Equality Commission needs to take a long look at itself and stop favouring the “metropolitan liberal elite definition” of equality”…..”
I’m thinking, that faced with such an opposition , the machines will be forced to fight back and disrupt society as we’ve come to know it, in any way they might prefer.. You know they can do that already, don’t you?