Artificial intelligence is changing the world. At least, the White House thinks so.
Last week, the Obama administration released a 60-page report titled Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence. It paints with a broad stroke the current state of AI in several different fields - health, education, the environment - and proposes ways in which industry and government can work together to advance the public good.
It's a remarkable document, if only for the fact that it's being issued by an outgoing administration in its final months in office. Clearly, the White House considers AI an immediate governance issue for the incoming administration.
Three days after the White House report was issued, AI researcher Kate Devlin was in New York City, digging into some weird specifics. On stage inside a New York University lecture hall, she stood in front of a decidedly NSFW image: a scantily clad, human-sized sex doll from RealDoll. "They sell these to a wide range of people," she told the audience. "And the most frequent request they get is to embed AI into these dolls."
Devlin was one of four presenters at a flat-out fascinating discussion of the many complexities headed our way in this nascent age of artificial intelligence. Currently teaching at the University of London, Devlin's research focuses on cognition, gender and sexuality as they relate to modern machines like companion robots.
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In her short presentation at NYU's Ethics of Artificial Intelligence conference, Devlin raised a dozen different compelling issues concerning sex, ethics and robots. For instance, there's the matter of Pepper,, the humanoid robot from Japan that can ostensibly read human emotions through facial cues and vocal tones. Pepper is designed to be a companion robot, a kind of mechanized domestic pal for anyone who needs a companion, for any reason. Well, maybe not any reason.
"In Pepper's contract, it says that using Pepper for the purpose of acts of sexual behavior ... is prohibited and breaks the contract," Devlin said. "It will void the warranty." The nervous laughter in the auditorium had a strange timbre: This is new territory for our species.
To hear Devlin tell it, the current issues around robotic companions are the first tricklings of a giant ethical storm. Fast-forward to a future of sentient machines. Doesn't the issue of consent, at some point, have to factor in? Even in our present situation of primitive specimens like RealDoll, doesn't the very idea of a female sex robot exacerbate the objectification of women?
Kathleen Richardson thinks so. A senior research fellow in the Ethics of Robotics at De Montford University, Richardson founded the Campaign Against Sex Robots in 2015. The group is dedicated to supporting the development of ethical technologies and to highlight the dangers of producing sex robots - and the ideas behind them.
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