In the 1967 movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy have their white, liberal views tested when their daughter brings home Sidney Poitier as her new fiancé. Well, many parents raising children today are going to have their own views and values put to a similar test in the not too distant future. Only this time it won’t be a fiancé of a different color, he or she will be of a different techno-biological persuasion. Welcome to the singular world of … Loveotics.
Many parents already struggle with how much time their kids spend on the computer playing video games, living a Second Life and social networking. Just imagine what it’s going to be like when Johnny or Jane calls and breaks the news: they’ve decided to marry a bot. Sounds pretty far-fetched, doesn’t it? So do many developments in today’s world until we begin to raise our head and our consciousness and begin to look around, kind of like these Swarmanoid bots do in order to find a lost book.
Pi Are Squared … and Round
My friend Patrick works at Stanford. He has a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, but his real passion is artificial intelligence. He’s also an expert computer programmer. Put those passions together (and multiply them times millions of kids!), and you end up with someone primed to be passionate about robotics. Which Patrick is. Here’s his current creation: Pi Robot. Having met Pi in person, and having had him call me by name on sight, track my body movements with his eyes and respond to questions I ask him, I have to say, Pi triggers a clear, strong emotional response. At this stage in Pi’s development he elicits mostly a response similar to how I react to Archie, the kitty, or Bodie, the puppy. But it’s clear to me that with only a few upgrades to Pi’s parallel and serial processors, it won’t take much to get me to respond to Pi emotionally much as I do to other human beings. Then what?
Love Me, Love My Exoskeleton
Just to gain a small sense of the Artificial Intelligence/Robotics world, take a quick look at Justin, a potential son-in-law bot any hip mother in her right mind would be proud for her daughter to marry. Justin is wired in to the Meteron (Multi-purpose End-To-End Robotic Operations Network) and he has big plans for the future. First he’s going to first fly to the moon and then to Mars and scope out the scene there, checking to see if it might be a good place to settle down and raise a family. Family get-togethers for the holidays are going to involve a whole new level of trip-planning.
Would You Disown Your Child for Loving a Bot?
When my older sister Andrea was 15, my mother literally threw her and her few possessions out into the street. She was hanging out with Way-Way Mazzicane, a kid from “the wrong side of the tracks,” which was interesting, since we were living on welfare in a housing project at the time! Denial and distortion are powerful mechanisms. But the feelings of shame and disgrace that were triggered in my mother by my sister’s choice of friends produced more energy than my mother’s narrow emotional window was able to tolerate. This kind of emotional highjacking happens billions of times every day all over the world. And the failure to skillfully manage our own emotional lives frequently results in much unnecessary suffering for everyone. The good news is that actions like my mother’s are something that Justin and bots just like him will be able to stand strong in the face of. In the best of all possible worlds, Justin’s “artificial intelligence” will be massively wired to his compassionate heart, a heart that unfailingly answers The Big Brain Question “Yes” every single time. Who wouldn’t want to marry someone you can unfailingly count on?
Those of us with early personal histories that include abandonment, betrayal and abuse will need Justin to re-perpetrate those experiences, only in ways that allow us to gain mastery, much as Freud argued when he identified the Repetition Compulsion. By programming repetition with resolution Justin’s compassionate heart will be operating the way many human hearts simply haven’t yet learned how to do in contemporary culture. Which could ultimately lead to Azimov’s Fourth Law of Robotics: Robots will do everything in their power to heal all that lives unresolved in the human heart. Now that’s a brave new world humanity might truly blossom in, especially when bots are already walking on water!