Thursday, July 21, 2016

Adam and I, Robot

There's a paradoxical relationship between Adam and modern science. On the one hand there's the evolutionary challenge to the historicity of Adam and Eve. Of course, evolution has, itself, been challenged–but I'd like to make a different point. 

Ironically, hard science fiction and AI research present scenarios that parallel Adam and Eve. Let's grant, for discussion purposes, that AI is feasible. Suppose you're a cyberneticist. You have a number of judgment calls to make.

The only kind of intelligence you can give a robot or computer is humanoid intelligence. That's because humans are the most intelligent species on earth. So that's the template. Moreover, the cyberneticist is human. In programming a computer or robot to think, how humans think is his only frame of reference. 

Like Adam, the robot will have instant adult intelligence and innate knowledge. 

Since the computer or robot has humanoid intelligence, that raises the question of whether to go all the way by making an android. 

Now, because the android had no childhood, it will have no memories of a time before it came online. Its first memoir will be the moment it was switched on. That's like Adam's first moment of consciousness. He suddenly comes alive, as a self-aware adult. 

An alternative is to make the android think it's human. After all, the android already thinks like a human. Has human reason and emotions. If you were to tell the android that it wasn't human, that might create cognitive dissonance or mental instability. 

So you might program the android with false memories of a happy nonexistent childhood. It would be the cybernetic equivalent of Last Thursdayism: "There is no logical impossibility in the hypothesis that the world sprang into being five minutes ago, exactly as it then was, with a population that "remembered" a wholly unreal past. There is no logically necessary connection between events at different times; therefore nothing that is happening now or will happen in the future can disprove the hypothesis that the world began five minutes ago."

That's a psychological version of mature creation or even Omphalism. 

Or you might tell the android that due to illness or accident, it suffers from retrograde amnesia. That's why it can't remember it's childhood. 

To be sure, that's deceptive, but it's deceptive in the sense that if a senile person thinks her husband or parents are still alive, we will play along with her anteograde amnesia since it would be heartless to tell her that they are dead. It comforts her to believe they are still alive. Not only would it serve no good purpose to traumatize her, but since she's so forgetful, you'd have to constantly remind her that they are dead, so that she'd  periodically experience the grief afresh as if it was the first time. That would be wantonly cruel.

By the same token, you might spare the feelings of the android by making it think it was human, that it had a normal childhood.  

Obviously, there are ways in which an android might discover that it's an artificial lifeform. In that event, you might simply erase the traumatic memory. 

There are lots of different ways a science fiction writer can develop an android character–ways that parallel mature creation and the special creation of Adam. In addition, for people who take AI research seriously, this isn't just hypothetical. Rather, these are issues which a successful cyberneticist would have to confront. In that respect, the role of the cyberneticist is rather like the Creator in Genesis.  

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