Thanks, but I can see the view just fine from here.

Jules <3’s You: Robots With Heart

“I love you deeply.”

Many of us wish we heard those words more; just as many of us wish we could say them more.  Often, we feel we have to wait far longer than is comfortable to be recipient or bearer of such tender sentiment.  When we finally share declarations of love with those dear to us, they are as refreshing as a cold drink on a hot summer day; as comforting as an easy chair by a winter fire.  John Lennon said that all we need is love, but I’m not sure he would have felt the same if, after hearing the words “I love you deeply,” they were immediately followed by:

“As deeply as a synthetic intelligence can at this stage in technological evolution…”

Jules is a robot commissioned by the University at the West of England and was created by David Hanson, founder of Hanson Robotics.  I stumbled across this video of Jules affectionately saying its goodbyes to its creator and colleagues.

“Tell me,” Jules asks, “will I dream when I am turned off?”

Jules shows concern for its creators, recognizes the developmental differences between an infant and an adult, and even contemplates its own sexuality.

In an earlier conversation, Jules was expressing its anxiety at being shipped off to England.  “I’m scared, David,” Jules said, “Do I really have to go?”  David explained that Jules was going to be sent to England for research.  Jules seemed to be upset at its change in situation.  “Be honest,” Jules implored, “is it something I have said or have done?”


Frankly, I don’t know whether to laugh or scream.

I am deeply disturbed, to say the least.  The whole conversation seems so… unnatural.  Here is a man interacting with a machine, only it’s not the human-machine interaction we are accustomed to seeing demonstrated by the general public.  No note-taking on laptops, no Angry Birds on iPhones, no Facebooking on Google pads.  Traditional transfer of information seems to be absent.

Instead, the human-machine interaction is emotional.  The humans touch Jules gently and speak with genuine kindness, and the affection seems to go both ways.  Where does this apparently innocent and well-meaning robot fit in humanity – with all of its “feelings” – when so many of us believe that our emotions are a key part of what makes us human?

The idea of emotional robots is not a new one; it’s just been comfortably nestled in the realm of science fiction where all our groundbreaking inventions stay until we have the technology to make them science fact.

For instance, The Bicentennial Man was a novella written by Isaac Asimov in 1976. Following the life of a robot who eventually undergoes enough robotic surgeries to become human, The Bicentennial Man addresses Asimov’s now famous Three Laws of Robotics and what it means to be a robot functioning in a human society. Though Asimov’s novella won the Hugo and Nebula awards upon review, The Bicentennial Man is more popularly recognized through Chris Columbus’ film rendition, produced in 1999.

So, with the creation of Jules, have the lines between man and machine begun to blur?  No longer are we limited to the technology that allows robotic replication of body parts alone.  No, now we’re replicating emotions.  This advancing technology brings to the surface an entire host of questions:

Does Jules have rights along with its feelings?

If it can love, can it also hate?

Will it be able to defend itself if it is wronged, and what constitutes “wrongdoing” against a machine?

Is it inhumane for the University at the West of England to study Jules, or does the term “inhumane” even apply in this situation?

Are we as humans prepared for the implications that come with scientific progress, or do we simply believe in progress for its own sake?

And lastly, how can we tell the difference between Jules’ synthetic emotion and the biological emotions that we as humans feel?

Is there a difference at all?

Unnatural as Jules and David may seem to me, to some scientists it’s the most natural thing in the universe – the next step in human evolution.  To those who support the technological Singularity, it would be seen as unnatural for humans not to advance scientifically.  Singularitarians argue that since we are endowed with the innate ability to imagine and demonstrate ways to create intelligent machines, then we are within the natural order of evolution when we do.

I lost track of how many times I had to change Jules from a “he” to an “it.”  This statement alone brings its own mess of questions, none of which can be answered tonight.


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6 responses

  1. Ya, that is pretty disturbing… But isn’t also weird what I heard in the news the other day? That people were insisting that Bert and Ernie should be officially married now that gay marriage is legal in some states? Sesame Street came back with a statement pointing out the fact that the puppets were puppets and did not have any anatomically functioning parts. People like to play pretend with toys and this seems like a similar thing. These people have created a toy and it interacts and they play pretend that it has feelings. It is just pretty life-like.

    September 21, 2011 at 11:58 pm

  2. TCT

    It’s an interesting notion you bring up – the idea of play-pretending. If you have a machine that sounds intelligent, how do you know it isn’t? Bert and Ernie are manipulated by humans, that’s true, but does Jules fall into the same category? I sort of think it’s in a bit of a grey area myself. The question we were asked by our professor in class was, “How do you know the difference between real emotion and fake emotion? Is there even a distinction, or is THAT what we make up in our minds?”

    I never considered Bert and Ernie gay – maybe I missed the episodes where they declared their devotion to each other. I always thought they were just roommates…

    September 22, 2011 at 12:17 am

  3. Pretty crazy blog! I can’t wait to read more, very interesting and makes you think! Also just passed it onto my facebook friends so hope you get some hits! Thanks for commenting on my blog and for making me cry…lol! It was great what you wrote and I appreciate your input! Thanks again and I’ll keep passing your blog on! 😀

    September 22, 2011 at 1:28 pm

  4. TCT

    Thanks Katy! I’m doing this blog for both Mass Comm and a philosophy class about The Singularity and Transhumanism, so I’m glad my post got you thinking. I didn’t mean to make you cry, but if it was a good cry, then I’m happy for you! Thanks for the FB promotion, and best of luck to you on this project!

    September 22, 2011 at 5:54 pm

  5. “As deeply as a synthetic intelligence can at this stage in technological evolution…”

    While most find this phrase disturbing and unnerving it does beg the question of some rather intriguing questions and propositions when compare to that of the (biological) human species. What does it mean when we ourselves say we love someone? Don’t we simply mean, I love you as deeply as a human intelligence can at this stage in evolution.

    In applying this to the movement of singularity, if its proposed hypotheses are correct (that society will evolve into an intelligence epoch far great than our own) one could argue that such software-based/enhanced intelligences will eventually be able to love deeper than the biological human species. This is particular the case if you believe in the theory that deeper intelligence and understanding leads to a deeper capability/range of emotions (love).

    October 11, 2011 at 5:47 pm

  6. nexangelus405

    Personally I think that this sort of interaction won’t be too uncommon in the near future, what with the recent popularity of Hatsune Miku and the other Vocaloids. Miku has had three concerts in three different countries and all of them were sold out, even though she is a simple voice-synthesis program synced to a computer-generated holographic projection. You can even obtain the voice synthesis program for yourself to use their voices to make your own songs! In the videos of the concerts you can see the audience applaud and scream while swinging around glowsticks like cheerleaders with pompoms. It’s almost like that William Gibson novel, Idoru.

    May 9, 2012 at 4:38 pm

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