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.