Artificial Humanity

A Fukushima refugee cuddles PARO robot - designed to evoking caring responses in the elderly. Click picture to link for news story.

A Fukushima refugee cuddles PARO robot - designed to evoking caring responses in the elderly. Click picture to link for news story.

I hate inanimate devices which talk to me.

When I used to commute, I felt affronted by the machines on trains that told me to ‘collect all my belongings’ before I left the train and I detested lifts which instructed me to ‘mind the doors’. Now I find that the friendly and helpful human beings who used to help me at Tesco have been replaced by machines that cannot help telling me what to do, even when I have done it one hundred times before. If I had written the laws of robotics, number one would have been that robots should ‘be quiet, and never tell a human what to do.’

Last year the BBC reported on the nightmarish prospect of robotic seals (No, I am not making this up!) being used to evoke caring responses in elderly Japanese people. These are devices designed to  ‘evoke brain wave enhancement’ in the elderly.

And now, Apple have introduced SIRI which has all the hallmarks of a technology which will become ubiquitous. It is beguilingly clever, and a triumph of artificial intelligence.

I predict that soon, I will be obliged to converse with a computer system when I visit a supermarket. The ‘personality’ of the software will be carefully chosen to optimise the experience from a business perspective. The people that worked there will be made redundant, and presumably, supermarket items will become slightly cheaper as a result. Clever as this technology is – I detest it.

When I share a remark about the weather with a person on the supermarket checkout, momentarily we genuinely share our experiences – albeit rather superficially. Our shared moment is a tiny moment, and an insignificant moment in many ways. But in that moment we are equals. If I commented on the weather to a SIRI-based checkout assistant, no doubt SIRI would reply appropriately – but it would mean nothing. It would re-inforce my isolation rather than diminishing it. If these mudane inetractions with people are replaced by computer interfaces, we will all be the poorer.

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