14.2. How Do You Simulate Life?

At one point Brooks seems about to launch an inquiry into the reality of the matter. "It is all very well for a robot to simulate having emotions," he writes,

and it is fairly easy to accept that the people building the robots have included models of emotions. And it seems that some of today's robots and toys appear to have emotions. However, I think most people would say that our robots do not really have emotions.

Brooks' response to this line of thought is to draw on a clich of artificial-intelligence literature: he compares airplanes with birds. Although planes do not fly in the manner of birds they neither flap their wings nor burn sugar in muscle tissue we do not denigrate their performance as a mere simulation of flying. They really do fly. So Brooks wonders, "Is our question about our robots having real emotions rather than just simulating having emotions the same sort of question as to whether both animals and airplanes fly?"

He seems reluctant to state his answer directly, but his argument throughout Flesh and Machines makes it clear that he equates "life-like" with "alive," even if that means, rather mysteriously, "alive in a different way." In speaking of Genghis, a primitive, insect-like robot, he tells us that the software and power supply transform a "lifeless collection of metal, wire, and electronics" into an "artificial creature":

It had a wasplike personality: mindless determination. But it had a personality. It chased and scrambled according to its will, not to the whim of a human controller. It acted like a creature, and to me and others who saw it, it felt like a creature. It was an artificial creature.

"If it feels like one, it must be one" seems to be how the argument goes. Not much interest in distinctions here. Nor much timidity. "Kismet is not HAL," Brooks concedes, "but HAL [who could "never be your friend"] was not Kismet either. Kismet gets at the essence of humanity and provides that in a way that ordinary people can interact with it."

The essence of humanity? Brooks lives in a world of excruciating and embarrassing na vet a world where a child's doll programmed to say it is hungry somehow has genuine "wants" and "desires," and where a robotic insect programmed to follow sources of infrared radiation can be said to be hunting "prey." And if any unwelcome doubts should arise, they can be dispelled by all those humans who react to the robots as if they harbored intelligence and feelings.

Devices of the Soul. Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines
Devices of the Soul: Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines
ISBN: 0596526806
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2007
Pages: 122
Authors: Steve Talbott

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