My dog Sucre is not a dab hand at chess, but he has the uncanny knack of soothing me when necessary. I wonder whether AI (Artificial Intelligence) would ever possess such a humanlike capacity. Last week I came across a series of articles on the future of AI. Among them, it was the one on Erica, a Japanese android created 23 years ago, which riveted my attention.
Back in 1996, the classic man vs. machine plot hit the headlines when Deep Blue, an IBM computer specialised in playing chess beat the world chess champion Gary Kasparov. I clearly remember how exciting it was to see AI in action. I read with rapt attention all the articles that flooded the press in those days.
However, I was disappointed about the unfair comments made by the majority of journalists. Instead of a breath of fresh air, Deep Blue was the spark for a spiral of overthinking that bordered on the absurd. A mounting ill-founded concern over the risks of AI that has remained alive up until now. But neither was Deep Blue, at that time, a menace to humankind, nor does Erica represent a hazard nowadays.
Erica has a beautiful face and can express emotions. She can also be engaged in a conversation on topics ranging from culture, politics or new thinking, to the hypothetical scenario in which AI becomes the dominant form of intelligence on Earth. She has a relatively high degree of autonomy and has been programmed to learn from each human interaction in which she is involved.
When asked about the AI takeover, she openly recognises that despite being difficult to predict, it is too soon to envisage so fascinating a scenario. Many of us, at this moment, would ask ourselves whether doomed would not have been a more appropriate adjective to qualify that scenario. In any case, Erica’s arguments are sound.
She provides a snapshot of the possible risks of AI. In the first place, she assures us that an AI would not be capable of stabbing human beings in the back, unless it was programmed to do so. She also claims that AI’s power of computing is not tantamount to the amazing ability to feel and react that humans have. Somewhat, not a mere sign of a conceited attitude can be appreciated when conversing with Erica.
Of course, she is proud of her creators. She talks with frank enthusiasm about the new algorithms that they are planning to implement in the near future. Apparently, these blocks of code are aimed at enabling Erica to understand and emulate feelings. However, it is rather comical when Erika tries to imitate an awkward silence; she always fails in her attempts to choose the right moment to stop talking. More embarrassing though is when she tries to be funny and tells a cruel joke about genocide.
All things considered, I would decidedly go for a dog. Sucre’s companionable presence can soothe me and even make me happy. I would not go so far as to say that the lack of sense of humour could tarnish Erica’s reputation, but she definitely lacks what makes us human.