Article

Phil Livingstone
Phil Livingstone 23 June 2016

Bots Have No Feelings. Humans Are Safe...For Now.

Will bots move from cognitive thought to artificial intelligence, and feel excited, jealous or even develop feelings?  Scary when you think it might be possible.

Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m an Amazon convert. Part of the tribe, a Prime Customer. As my neighbours will confirm, they do receive a fair few delivers on our behalf (thanks again if you’re reading this). They’ve cracked customer experience and made it simple, easy and quick. Taking the hassle out of a mundane shopping experience. 

I’m excited by the next generation of gadgets; personal assistants, IoT, connected devices for the home, etc. Move over Siri and Cortana, enter Alexa stage left.

Echo, Amazon’s audio speaker integrates a personal voice assistant called Alexa...useful, yes. Practical, hmm yes. Functional, definitely. I can see it settling a few debates in my house.

By definition, a speaker has to listen. These next generation conversational bots continually learn and stream info to and from the cloud. Most things ‘learn’ these days, through a combination of algorithms (supervised and unsupervised) and reinforcement learning.

They will eventually know more about your habits, family life and personal information than you probably want them to.

 Privacy debate aside...it got me thinking, can you teach machines, robots, and bots to go beyond the functional assistant and develop emotions?

Giulio Tononi developed a mathematical framework for consciousness and states that ‘the ability to integrate information is a main feature of consciousness. He believes that integrated information cannot be broken down into smaller components in our conscious minds, because the brain contextualises information.

If consciousness is therefore based on the integration of lots of pieces of information, then computers can’t be conscious and capable of experiencing emotions like humans.

“Emotional” robots are on the market right now, but their capabilities are as superficial as the intelligence demonstrated in Turing test iterations (Wikipedia - a test whereby a machine is required to fool a neutral judge into thinking that it is human). These robots don’t ‘feel’ emotions as such, but they can detect human emotions and respond back accordingly.

Sigmund Freud’s main contribution to psychology was undoubtedly his theories on levels of consciousness. He developed a topographical model of the mind, whereby he described the features of the mind’s structure and function but he struggled with the theory of conscious versus unconscious.  

"The consciousness hurdle surely has to be overcome before robots can feel real emotion".

No one really understands what consciousness is, and can you believe that only recently have scientists agreed that animals are conscious. Jung, Freud and Adler, I’m sure would question why it’s taken so long.

Realities are blending, from virtual reality to augmented reality. We are starting to see devices that allow you to step into these realities. Strange to think but technology is becoming more human, with massive processing power as well as the ability for thought and speech (perhaps even emotion, one day). Robots are also becoming human like(IBM’s Watson) but with no emotion, they will continue to make rational, programmable, and algorithmic decisions without conscious emotion.

The context and monotony of daily life will evolve. Connected devices, assistants and technology will support the running of your schedule, home, car and ultimately your life via an intelligent bot.   

So for now, emotional artificial intelligence can wait. ‘Alexa’ [insert alternative bot name] play some Led Zeppelin and tell me if it’s going to rain today.

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