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Sometimes I Wish That It Would Rain Here

Thursday, December 21, 2006

rights for robots? yeah, right

so, who thinks that in, say, the next 20 to 50 years, robots will be sufficiently advanced to merit rights and responsibilities as citizens, rights such as voting and "health" care (which in this case I suppose would mean regular maintenance), and responsibilities such as paying taxes and compulsory military service? not me. however, a recent paper (via BBC) assembled by the Horizon Scanning Centre for the UK's Office of Science claims that robots could develop to a point sufficient to merit being treated as citizens within 20 to 50 years. remember the first AI conference 50 years ago when McCarthy coined the term and people thought we'd have machines smarter than people in, oh, maybe 20 years? or maybe 50 years? or maybe more like 100? or, hey, maybe never...?

machines are already far intellectually superior to humans in many regards. machines don't get fatigued (bitrot notwithstanding), machines are (generally) deterministic, machines don't make numerical errors (or errors of any sort) that aren't the result of some human error or mechanical breakdown. a machine can analyze huge textual corpora to extract all sorts of interesting and useful information. machines can perform the thousands and millions of calculations per second necessary to render 3D graphics. machines can navigate through a 3D physical environment, sometimes in the dark. machines can do all sorts of things humans can't do. why is it that we keep trying to make machines do things that humans can do? I know there are arguments about replacing the unskilled labor force and dangerous jobs with robot laborers (e.g., Kapek's R.U.R.), and so on and so forth. however, I doubt there would be a cry from the public to grant robotic laborers rights as citizens. for that, such machines would need to have certain elements of human experience. I don't know what subset of human experience makes one merit citizenship. are any researchers (aside from the vociferous Minsky) working on such goals? not that I'm incredibly well-read in AI at large, but most of the stuff I see in the field is aimed at weak AI, not the type of AI that would merit citizenship.

furthermore, how did this end up in a government report? I understand that the whole goal of this project was to see things that might be coming down the pike in the next 20 to 50 years, and robots with rights is certainly a possibility. I also think it doesn't hurt to consider these things well in advance so that, should the time come to make such a decision, we are not blind-sided. maybe I'm just out of touch, but I mean really, c'mon, you can't be serious. does anyone actually think that (a) significant research is being done in this direction with the goal of making machines that would be publicly considered sentient, and (b) that this research will produce such a machine with the half-century timeline? anyone?

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