Artificial Intelligence, Avatars, and the Future

Most people first heard the word “avatar” from James Cameron’s Avatar, one of the top grossing films of all time. Some consider avatars an extension of the self that can save the world in the context of virtual reality or a video game. In Hinduism, avatars are considered incarnations of deities or immortals. The Hindu god Vishnu, for example, has many avatars, including the Buddha.

Helping to sort out the avatar conundrum and the fascinating field of artificial intelligence was a Brainwave series program at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC last Wednesday night. The program—“A.I. and Avatar: The New Explorers,”— began with a head-spinning question: “Can machines and other avatars expand the human experience—and perhaps even take our minds to the stars?”

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The Ethics of Emerging Technologies

Large crowd for the event, which was open to the public.

Large crowd for the event, which was open to the public.

At last night’s International Neuroethics Society public program, we heard from eight speakers on the ethics of emerging technologies, addressing the potential benefits and risks they raise when applied to health care.

Kate Darling, a specialist in human-robot interaction at MIT, talked about her experience with robots and her hopes and concerns for mainstream integration. She opened her presentation with a personal story from 2007, when she became the owner of a baby dinosaur robot, the size of a small cat, that responded to touch. She would often show it off to friends, demonstrating how it cried when she held it upside down. After a while, though, Darling began to notice that it upset her to hear it cry.

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Moral Robots: How Close Are We?

world science festival robots
While we have grown accustomed to living and working in a world aided by “smart” devices, there is still a sense of suspicion when we talk about artificial intelligence (AI). Hollywood certainly hasn’t helped, with movies like “The Terminator” and “The Matrix,” but how close are we really to co-existing with autonomous, superintelligent robots?

The robots of today, at least, are not going to take over the world, said cognitive psychologist Gary Marcus one of the panelists at Saturday’s World Science Festival event, “The Moral Math of Robots: Can Life and Death Decisions be Coded?” To assuage any fears right off the bat, he encouraged audience members to watch a bloopers video from a recent DARPA Robotics Challenge. The Terminator, they are not. In fact, their fumbles are kind of endearing.
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Robots as Soldiers and Caretakers

INS Robots in Society

L to R: Ronald C. Arkin, Goldie Nejat, and INS President Barbara Sahakian

The International Neuroethics Society opened its annual meeting last night at AAAS in DC with a thought-provoking public program on robots in society. Though the title conjures up images from the Terminator movies (at least for me), the two speakers avoided wading too far into a futuristic, science fiction universe, and instead focused on the impact of robots in warfare and healthcare, and the ethical considerations involved.

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The Psychology of Computers

“My computer is moody today.” “My computer doesn’t like me.” “My computer is going bonkers.” Sound familiar?

We often project human emotion onto computers. We do this with a variety of inanimate objects, but with computers it has added significance.

In a September 2009 Q&A with DABI member Terrence J. Sejnowski, Ph.D., we were introduced to Rubi, a robot that has the ability to socially interact with preschoolers. Two years later we reported on Rubi’s first day of school. Rubi was designed to “cry” if one of the children got too rough, an example of the increasingly blurred lines between human and robot.

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