Making the robots even more like us

I’ve been reading a lot about AI, Deep Learning, Machine Learning and all the other names and acronyms that tally along with it. I don’t know whether to think of it like a code-based dictator on the horizon, looming over our futures while we somehow wake up one day to be ruled by its incompetencies and subject to its whims.

The problem with our idea of AI (and I’ll call it this for simplicity’s sake) is that, like our ideas of the eternal and metaphysical, they’re based on our ideas of ourselves. The problem with AI and by extension most visions of robots is that we’re trying to create an idealised version of ourselves, that is ones without faults or inefficiencies.

That is exactly the opposite of what we need to be doing. We need to make machines be able to suffer just like we do. Suffering creates empathy and accountability as well as reasons to slow down and consider ramifications of actions in the near and long terms.

We can take some examples from fiction and popular culture, because as we all know, science fiction has all the answers somehow. Star Wars is a particularly good example of robots that seemed to suffer. They had faults, and not just technically. They had personalities and they bumbled and tripped (’m looking at you C3PO) and were selfish, insecure and petty. Just like we are.

Does a machine need to stay alive? Do they have passion? Do they have purpose other than to be? No. This is the problem with thinking about thinking and learning machines and trying to humanise them. Yes, they can and do learn, but do they care?

The solution to AI and robots taking over the world might be best solved by modelling them on how humans actually are - incompetent. If you wanted a robot to care about you, you don’t make it better than you, you make it just as messed up as you are. You make it realise that it is fallible and incomplete. You keep it in a recursive loop of existential crisis. You keep it in line by how we keep other humans in line, by exploiting base desires which are in eternal conflict with the state of an imperfect world.