n order to get an idea of what future life will be like, CosmoCaixa Barcelona has set up a cycle of activities around the exhibition “Robots, humans and machines“. Among them, the interesting talk “The influence of robots in our lives and affective relationships“, which last week gave Marcel Cano, professor of ethics and philosophy at the University of Barcelona, and Carme Torras, research professor at CSIC. The goal was to make us see that, when artificial intelligence is definitely installed in our day to day, our way of relating to friends, family and colleagues will be light-years away from what it is now.
Nanny robots, assistance robots for the elderly and butler robots that welcome in hotels begin to be part of the daily life of many people in Japan and China. The most important thing is that, as Carme explains, there is a model, Pepper, which is much more than a functional tool. The reason? It is able to “read” people’s emotions and simulate empathy. It is, in short, capable of being a little bit more like person. According to Marcel, the intention is that it does not take long to reach the Spanish health centres and help people in situations that, either due to their emotional connotation or the lack of time, they can sometimes surpass them and be difficult to handle. “The robot can cognitively stimulate people with Alzheimer’s, if their family members are not able to, or distract and calm children who are about to be operated on, if their parents are too nervous to reassure them”.
These scenes show that robots can make our life easier. Nevertheless, listening to the two experts it seems impossible not to think of a question that has long been echoing in many minds: will the fourth industrial revolution push a mass of workers to lose their jobs? According to Marcel, new jobs will be created, but it is difficult to employ all the people who will have been unemployed. If these predictions are accomplished, a restructuring of the economy will be essential. It will be necessary to force, for example, companies that benefit from robots to pay more taxes, so that these can be reverted into a universal basic income.
“If we do it right, this will free us. Suddenly, we will find time to do things, relate more with each other, enrich ourselves individually and collectively and offer services to society. We could return to Athenian democracy: we would have time to think and reflect on the contemporary Agora”, says Marcel. “Although, if we do not know what to do with this time, if we get bored, dystopian situations can appear: bored humans equals danger”, he adds, laughing.
The movie Her already taught us in 2014 how a person could fall in love with a computer system. And although machines are machines, and are not designed for these tasks, nowadays the human-android marriages have already jumped from the cinema to real life. As for this idea -that some people end up moving away from a reality that does not convince them and prefer to sleep with a humanoid robot in their arms, instead of venturing to find human love- the philosopher appears to be clearly uncomfortable: “Robots are designed so that we spend as much time as possible using them, in the same way that your mobile does. We can all feel vulnerable at some point and get hooked on artificial intelligence but living in such a society would be very sad. We need to see robots as instruments, as complements”, says Marcel.
On the other hand, knowing that the most advanced artificial intelligence in the world (and the only one with a passport), Sophia, can simulate up to 62 facial gestures and imitate human behaviour with a precision far from perfect but no less disturbing, leads us to ask ourselves if one day the opposite might happen: will machines really feel? Will they be able to love us? According to Marcel, robots will always be far from being able to cry for joy or to be afraid of losing a loved one. They can only simulate emotions and will always be able to do so. “And if one day this shall change, we would no longer talk about machines, they would have become something else”.
Text: Alba Losada
Photograph: Laia Sabaté
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