There have been machines that move themselves for millennia. In the first century C. The original treatises he wrote about these automata were lost to history. But a group of Sicilian scholars discovered Arabic translations in the thirteenth century.
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Androids have always inspired mythmaking. In the thirteenth century, legend spread that a Dominican bishop named Albertus Magnus had built an Iron Man to guard his chamber. Thomas Aquinas, flew into a rage and smashed it to pieces. Some said that Aquinas had become convinced that the Iron Man was demonic. Others maintained he was simply fed up with its interrupting his prayers.
InPierre and Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz, father and son inventors from Switzerland, began touring with a harpsichord player they had built to resemble a young girl. She shook her head and breathed as she played, to show how the music was affecting her. One of their main competitors was the German inventor David Roentgen, who constructed a dulcimer player modeled on Marie Antoinette and gave it to her as a gift.
These stories always seemed to raise the same question: What would it take for a thing to go from being merely humanoid to actually human? In the twentieth century, the criteria shifted. With the rise of computing and artificial intelligence AIscientists began to talk more about thinking, sentience, and self-consciousness. The mathematician Alan Turing defined the most famous test of machine intelligence in a paper that he published in Imagine, he proposed, a human being text-chatting with a computer.
Now imagine a third party, reading a transcript of their conversation from a separate room. If the third person cannot tell human from computer, who can say that the machine is not thinking? The instance in which an artificial intelligence deed to resemble a year-old Ukrainian boy passed the test is widely disputed.
But when it comes to representations of robots and AI in popular culture, another criterion rules. Audiences have long been less captivated by the prospect of machine sentience than machine romance.
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For centuries, there have been stories of men who fall in love with androids. Over the past decade, the idea of creating AI you could love has moved from the realm of science fiction and into that of commerce and research. The Turing Test is supposed to determine whether a machine can think, or seem to think. How would you test whether a machine can process and simulate feelings so well that a human user could develop real feelings for it? Well, how do you test whether you could love anyone?
Flirting might seem trivial. It is in fact a highly exacting test of intelligence.
Think of all the things that you have to do in order to flirt successfully. Express certain desires via tone of voice and body language while hiding others. Project interest, but not too much interest. Correctly read the body language of others, who are also strategically dissembling. Say appropriate things and respond appropriately to what is said. Evolutionary science has shown that, for humans, flirting is a key test of emotional and social intelligence.
It assesses exactly the capacities that AI researchers are trying to endow machines with: the ability to generate feelings in others, and to understand context and subtext —or the difference between what a person wants and what a person says. For an artificial intelligence to flirt, one might imagine that a physical form resembling our own would be important.
The first scientist who seriously studied flirting in fact concluded we do most of it with facial expressions and physical gestures. He noticed that several behaviors seemed to hold constant across these very different places. Both males and females would often place a hand, palm up, in their laps or on a table.
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They would shrug their shoulders and tilt their he to show their necks. Try it sometime.
Look at a stranger across a room, tilt your head and smile, or toss your hair aside and see if she or he fails to respond. The common thread among these behaviors was that they all telegraphed: I am harmless. InMonica Moore of the University of Missouri published an article in the journal Ethology and Sociobiology catag 52 behaviors observed in female subjects.
David Hanson, the founder of Hanson Robotics, has spent his career trying to balance those demands. They are famous for Frubber, an elastic compound that Hanson patented in Frubber is flexible; it can be programmed to mimic the mechanisms of 60 different muscles in the human face and neck. Sheathed in Frubber from the neck up, Hanson androids smile and frown; they raise their eyebrows quizzically and twitch.
At a TED Talkhe presented an android bust modeled on Albert Einstein that demonstrated how his robots recognize and respond to nonverbal emotional cues. When he frowned, so did the Einstein robot. When he smiled, Einstein smiled back. He says robots that can perform such behaviors will attract and engage humans—and the relationships they form will in turn improve AI.
We have million-plus years of evolved neural hardware that makes us desire anthropic character experience.
Hanson also believes enthusiastic tinkering with empathetic androids will facilitate a breakthrough to artificial general intelligence, much as amateurs improved early personal computers and helped build the internet. At least, this is his hope for his latest project: Sophia. Hanson unveiled Sophiawhich he created using open-source software at South by Southwest in March.
All summer and fall, Hanson and Sophia were on the road—shooting a film in Hungary, presenting at conferences in Beijing, Budapest, and Berlin, and meeting with prospective investors around the United States.
But the engineer in charge of creating her personality, Stephan Bugaj, stayed at work in Los Angeles. I met Bugaj at the La Brea Tar Pits, where sculptures of woolly mammoths and saber-toothed wildcats stand at the edges of active bogs that still stink and pop and leap.
Bugaj spent several years at Pixar, where he worked on visual effects for Ratatouille and the Cars movies. He said creating an artificial personality was very similar to creating a character for a script, and he cites as influences the screenwriting experts Syd Field, Robert McKee, and Blake Snyder.
What is her fear, what are her goals, her internal problems that she wants to overcome? Then he attends to the tiny physical gestures in which personality becomes manifest. Little scenarios play out whenever you receive a stimulus. And the key to that is programming robots to enact the right physical expressions. For example, they must continually slightly move their bodies. He froze in place. The wind made my mostly empty cup skitter away. Eye movement is also crucial, he said.
The eyes have to move a bit.
But it would also be rude if my eyes were constantly wandering away. Do you like science fiction? A robot can provide more relatability. Bugaj reflected a moment. We are, as a species, lonely. Most engineers working on AI do not focus on humanlike bodies. It is easier to make an AI both alluring and nonthreatening if it has no body at all.
Consider the flirtatious chatbot. Conversational robots have been coming on to unsuspecting users in chat rooms and on dating apps for some time. Recently, the study of flirting has increasingly focused on the role of language in human courtship. Some say that even if we use our bodies and gestures to telegraph desire, possessing language is the key element that makes our species behave the way we do.
In a paper published in Evolutionary Psychology inthe ethologist Andrew Gersick and ecologist Robert Kurzban suggested that human flirting may have evolved to be uniquely indirect because we have language. If a dragonfly bombs an air dance, the female he was trying to impress has no way to tell all her dragonfly friends. Neither males nor females of our species respond well to the verbal equivalent of a bellow in the face.
Are you sexually interested in me?
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But it shows something else that members of our species tend to value: social intelligence. This kind of verbal indirectness is very difficult for AI, as you quickly discover if you try to joke around with Siri or Cortana. But chatbot programmers have tried. To understand how teaching a chatbot to flirt might work, I spoke with Bruce and Sue Wilcox.
The Wilcoxes, who run a company called Brillig Understanding in San Luis Obispo, California, have developed ChatScript, an open-source program that lets other people build their own bots.
Together, the Wilcoxes have won the Loebner Prizean international competition for conversational AIs, four times. Bruce and Sue explained the primary goal that drives the de of their chatbots: to create AI capable of convincing someone she is being heard and understood. They also want opportunities for the bot to reveal personalitytypically in the form of unexpected opinions or information that imply comprehension. A lot of the philosophy behind ChatScript comes from the ancient Chinese game of Go.