Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Consciousness, Human, Robot, Intelligence, Artificial Intelligence, Technology, Awareness, Sleep

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2020/11/13

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Robotics is a new and promising field that is used in applications as diverse as industry, the military, and medicine. Not only are the automobiles we drive assembled mainly by robots, but prosthetics that give people's missing limbs functionality are becoming commonplace. Robots are even being developed into personal assistants and household servants. In many advanced countries, they even milk cows, replacing human labor at every phase. Robots, in one form or another, may be just around the corner. However, the widespread use of robots has legal and ethical implications. For example, would a conscious robot (if robotics ever reaches this stage of artificial intelligence) ever disobey, or even harm a human intentionally? This is a question that begs a critical examination.
First, the current definition of robots needs to be advanced. According to dictionary.com, a robot is "a machine that resembles a human and does mechanical, routine tasks on command." But, many of the "robots" that have already replaced human labor do not resemble us at all. They do not have humanoid features, but are capable of performing complex tasks that require a great deal of dexterity or speed. However, they are capable of executing routine tasks on command. Currently, we do not recognize robots as having consciousness. They are intelligent in the sense that they can perform billions of calculations per second, but they are programmed by humans to perform these tasks on command.
Certainly, it is not a stretch to imagine that robots could be programmed to hurt people. For example, a police robot could be programmed to use a taser, or tear gas to disperse an unruly mob, or even assist human police in potentially dangerous arrest scenarios. Robots could find a variety of uses in a dystopian police state, and the results could be terrifying. They could withstand conditions that humans would not be able to tolerate, giving them the edge as tools in a militant, fascist state.
However, this type of robot is still programmed to perform, or execute the tasks that their programmers want them to do. This is not the definition of independent, thinking, and conscious mechanized beings. Artificial intelligence (AI), such as cars that drive themselves and iPhone's Siri (the polite voice-activated search engine), is already here. The trivia quiz master, Watson, beat out other Jeopardy contestants in 2011 simply by reading all of Wikipedia (Cadwalladr, internet). However, this type of AI, albeit capable of quickly digesting huge amounts of information and cross-referencing it in the blink of an eye, only replicates human intelligence. Sadly, it is still artificial. The question, then, is will robots ever become conscious, and what does consciousness mean anyway?
According to Ray Kurzweil, Google engineer and AI maverick, the comprehension of natural language is the underpinning of intelligence (Cadwalladr, internet). Kurzweil predicts that one day man and machine will merge -- the "singularity" (Cadwalladr, internet). What computers with AI capabilities lose in terms of their ability to understand semantics, they make up for in speed. However, is consciousness the same as AI? Once computers become capable of knowing what you were going to think before you think it, as Kurzweil contends they will be able to do, does that mean they are conscious, or just really quick, in possession of complex algorithms and the circuitry to mimic consciousness.
According to dictionary.com, consciousness is defined as "the state of being conscious; awareness of one's own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc." If this can be used as our working definition, today's computers and/or robots lack consciousness. For example, when I ask Siri what she is thinking, she does not reply, but she knows the shortest route to my doctor -- when asked. Alas, she has no sensations of her case, no feelings, no aspirations, and no dreams. She is intelligent because she has been programmed to be this way. Yet, with all of her AI speed (and even built-in wit), she is missing something.
A conscious robot would operate out of its own freewill. It could make decisions without the intervention of human agency. It would be a sentient being -- like us (Pinker, internet). If robots ever attained the je ne sais quoi and subtlety of consciousness, would they disobey us, especially if their self-preservation depended on it? A fully-conscious being would have its own freewill, and act accordingly. Even a chimpanzee, which is on the level of a four-year-old human, does not obey humans every time, and even goes berserk (once in awhile), killing or maiming it captors. This could very well be a scenario that would play out with conscious robots. Robots, in a sense, are already smarter than us. They are cognitively quicker and can be engineered to be stronger. A sentient class of robots could conceivably overthrow its masters. Just one sentient robot (as in the movie A.I.) could help us feel more human.
Doubtless, "intelligent" robots can be programmed to kill humans, but a sentient robot would make its own decision, based on its own interests and survival instinct. If a sentient robot were about to be harmed by a human, it would choose to defend itself. Perhaps, if several sentient robots felt they were being harmed, they would rise up against us, once they figured out we did not exactly have their best interests in mind. It stands to reason that -- even as sci-fi as it sounds -- a sentient robot would make intelligent choices in pursuit of its best interests, but the jury is still out, as we have much more to consider in the ongoing deliberations.

Works Cited

Cadwalladr, Carole., (22 Feb, 2014). "Are the robots about to rise? Google's new director of engineering thinks so" The Observer. Retrieved on 14 Feb 2015 from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/feb/22/robots-google-ray-kurzweil- terminator-singularity-artificial-intelligence
Pinker, Steven., (1997). "Could a computer ever be conscious?" Retrieved on 14 Feb 2015 from http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articles/media/1997_08_18_usnewsworldreport.html

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