Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Computer love

I read today that a judge in New York has extended a right to some Chimpanzees at a university research lab that is normally reserved exclusively for Human Beings, the right of habeas corpus, i.e. they cannot be owned and caged (imprisoned) without justification. This is an interesting development, some might say inevitable, Chimps are our closest genetic cousins and let's face it we generally treat them like property. This ruling perhaps suggests a movement in the zeitgeist that might start seeing a shift in our moral attitudes toward other concious creatures. This kind of thing is long overdue in my opinion, I believe it's more a matter of taking responsibility for our actions and seeking to maximise the well-being of sentient creatures, why wouldn't we?

I do wonder what we'll do when robots become indistinguishable from people; will we treat them well or will we regress to the mentality of 18th century slave owners? To be honest though, I don't think this will happen too soon, perhaps not in my life time. Artificial intelligence is notoriously tricky but technology is improving quickly. In a recent development at a UK university they re-created part of a bee's brain in a computer using neural network software, it's sufficiently complex and functional to be able to fly a drone along a corridor and not hit the sides, impressive!. On a similar theme, take a look at the picture above which shows a recent installation at a Japanese department store, a talking humanoid robot that gives instructions to customers in different languages. Not exactly "I Robot" I grant you, but if a mere department store can afford such a device you can image the possibilities given enough cash and some time, although, I bet UKIP would have something to say about it.

Of course not everyone deals with human-machine relations in a rational way, here's a story about a chap in America (where else) who got so frustrated with his personal computer that he took it outside into his yard and pumped 8 shots into it, completely destroying the device. I guess we've all felt like that sometimes, after all, it's what makes us Human.

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