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Bracing humanity for rise of robots

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on July 9, 2010


The possibility of conscious robots widely populating our world is far more likely to happen than many dare to think.

Robotic technology has advanced to such an extent that in the near future robots will be capable of making autonomous decisions and thinking on their own, experts warn.

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“In the next decades in the Western world – in Japan, United States, Europe – humanoid robots will be among us, companions to elderly and kids, assistants to nurses, physicians, firemen and other workers. They will have eyes, human voices, hands and legs; skin to cover their gears and brains with multiple functions. Often, they will be smarter and quicker than the people they ought to assist. Placing robots in human environments inevitably raises important issues of safety, ethics, and economics,” Gianmarco Veruggio, the Vice-President of the School of Robotics (Genoa) said in an interview published on the Institute for Religion and Peace website, adding, “Only a large and lengthy international debate will be able to produce useful philosophical, technical and legal tools.”

So, is it possible that all those futuristic movies and works of fiction, picturing the world being controlled by machines that rebelled against their creators, will come true? There are scientists who take this risk seriously.

“It is not difficult to imagine how future computer malware, viruses, and worms might leverage richer learning and reasoning, accessing an increasing number of channels of information about people. AI (artificial intelligence) methods might one day be used to perform relatively deep and long-term learning and reasoning about individuals and organizations – and then perform costly actions in a sophisticated and potentially secretive manner. There was a shared sense that it would be wise to be vigilant and to invest in proactive research on these possibilities,” according to a recent report by the Presidential Panel on Long-Term AI future, organized by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

Scientists are facing a very serious task: not only do they need to ensure the highest protection of robots from being hacked and misused, but they also need to design robots which are capable of making ethical decisions and behaving ethically. Which brings forward a question intrinsically linked to the nature of ethical behavior – whether or not a robot can have a soul?

Considering the very notion of a soul has a number of religious and psychological definitions, the mission for scientists to successfully create such robots is then becomes even more complicated.

While the ability of inanimate objects to have a soul is common to Buddhism, other religions, especially those that insist that human beings were created in the image of God, tend to disagree with the chance of robots being equal to people.

“Even if robots have intelligence, they will never have a soul. Robots will never be equal to people, because people have an ability to believe in God by choice, and love Him and worship Him,” a Christian pastor, Igor Ubiy-Vovk, told RT.

“By having a soul, I mean the kind of inner representation. I represent to myself, thinking about myself and set myself apart from everything else in the universe. If the robot is fully conscious, it has to be able to do the same in every respect”, Soraj Hongladarom, a Buddhism expert and the director of the Center for Ethics of Science and Technology, said in his recent blog. “However, Buddhism does have its own problem. If robots and humans in the end are not too different, then it must be possible for a human being to be born again as a robot, and vice versa?”

Anna Smolska for RT

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