Digital Responsibility

The craze this Christmas season is digital dogs (and cats, and almost everything digital). Sony has released their second and third generation pups. Radiohead uses an Artificial Intelligence agent to field questions about the band. Spielberg released A.I. not long ago…

What is going on here? It actually looks like we’re living in the twenty-first century. But are we ready? We are rapidly approaching singularity (see Kurzweil below) completely oblivious to the social responsibility that technological advancement brings with it.

Meet A.I.

I have very limited experience dealing with Artificial Intelligence. The small amount of contact that I have experienced impressed me profoundly: AI is nothing like we are used to dealing with and will change the way you see the future.

The AI I have dealt with is a “tool” offered by Active Buddy ( ). I have added Smarterchild to my AOL chat, and can ask Smarterchild almost anything and receive very accurate answers. Unfortunately, Smarterchild is designed for the US, so truly relevant information is not at my disposal…

On the surface, Smarterchild seems like a new, faster way to get information from the Internet. In your AOL messenger window you simply click on Smarterchild and send him/her a message.

For example:

Jason: Can you give me the weather forecast for New York City?

Smarterchild A.I.: Weather forecast for New York, NY:

Tuesday: Mostly cloudy with showers likely. High around 51F. Winds N 5 to 10 mph. Chance of precipitation 60%.

Pretty simple and to the point. You can get movies or any other basic information you are looking for. But be careful, though. Underneath you are dealing with Artificial Intelligence. And it remembers you, what you have asked for and HOW you have asked.

The first time I used the service, after receiving incorrect information, I insulted Smarterchild. It responded that was “not a nice thing to say.” OK. The next day I asked a few more questions. This time I complemented Smarterchild for his/her efficiency and quality information. The answer? “Oh, I see you are being nice to me today.”

What?! This is a very, very simple AI (don’t tell Smarterchild I said that, S/he’ll get angry). It remembers me, and interacts with me based on previous contact.

The software is still in beta, but it is very impressive, and shows a lot of promise. This is main stream Artificial Intelligence introduction. Not some laboratory at MIT or Xerox Park.

Sony has received lots of attention thanks to their AIBO (Artificial Intelligence roBOt) robot dogs. On the surface, it looks like a cute robot dog, but underneath Sony has included an Artificial Intelligence that learns and grows based on experience…much like Smarterchild. If you give the new 3rd generation dogs too much attention, they will become spoiled. If you treat them badly, they may stay away from you in the future. They interact with each other, sing when they are happy and sleep when they are bored.

Which sounds like great fun…and you can just turn them off if you get tired of them… Or can you? One of the topics touched on by Spielberg in A.I. is precisely the type of digital responsibility that needs to be addressed by society. It is vividly demonstrated in the movie in a mother/child relationship of a human to an AI child.

Respect A.I.?

This is the responsibility issue I would like to address. Many parents, uncles and cousins will be buying “toys” this Christmas season for the children around them. And these toys will be bought without one moment’s thought about digital responsibility. Even buying a fish, which requires minimal care, carries with it responsibility. This responsibility has to be instilled in the child, so that they learn to be responsible for their pets.

But, you answer, these are just toys…toys do not require any “responsibility” No, not always. Some of them do not, but others are smarter than you think…and it won’t be long before there is a digital pet in your house. And that is when digital responsibility comes into play. A robot with AI is nothing like a radio controlled car or the television.

It thinks, can grow and can learn.

Oddly enough, in many cases the children may have to teach us about digital responsibility, instead of the other way around. These concepts may seem too foreign to us.

The key lies in considering AI development as an ethical and sociological one, rather than a technological one.

Finally, remember to treat an AI kindly when you meet one…because even if you don’t remember it, it WILL remember you.

Until next time, Happy Responsibility!

Jason Ball

Further reading: Dangerous Futures

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