What would you do if you were suddenly faced by an android that looked exactly like you and acted exactly the same way you act—especially if you didn’t like what you saw?
That is exactly what happened to Osaka University Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, one of Japan’s leading robotic engineers who recently created a robot that was not only in his own image but also had many—if not all—of his subtle behavioral habits.
The professor is not a bad looking fellow, so he was not upset with the appearance of his double, but what really got to him were some of the odd behavioral ticks exhibited by the robot that he found uncomfortable to watch.
It seems that the professor had programmed the android to be an exact duplicate of himself in both appearance and in behavior….resulting in him finally seeing himself as others see him…which turned out to be a bit of a shock.
The good professor was further disturbed by the fact that his peers, coworkers and students all agreed that the android was a virtually perfect clone…that it exhibited all of his behavioral traits…putting him in a position of experiencing something that no one else had ever experienced before.
Prof. Ishiguro’s creation of an android clone of himself was not inspired by any ego trip, but by a strong desire to understand the scientific basis for human individuality…something that has never been identified much less quantified.
In addition to seeing his outward self as others saw him, Prof. Ishiguro extrapolated that if his inner self was revealed in the same way both he and everyone else who saw him would be even more surprised or shocked.
While this thought was even more disturbing to him, as a scientist he saw it as a big step forward in understanding the internal makeup of humans…which led him to begin asking questions of his students that surprised and shocked them. With one telling example being asking them to compare their daily activities with that of cockroaches...which, like humans, eat, sleep and propagate themselves.
Prof. Ishiguro notes that all individuals have personalities and characteristics that distinguish them from others to varying degrees, but the lives of most people are based on their financial and social status rather than inherent qualities that differentiate them from cockroaches.
He sees this phenomenon as a cultural failure that is the source of most of the self-made problems that have afflicted mankind since day one. He says that the most important thing that humans can do and other life forms cannot do is think about the fundamental questions of life and the world at large, and respond—rationally or irrationally.
While he doesn’t spell it out, he infers [correctly] that most people do not habitually think and respond in a rational, positive manner, which more or less puts them on the level of cockroaches.
Prof. Ishiguro adds that the only people who deserve to be called individuals are those who ask what human beings are, and have well thought-out perspectives of themselves and the role in life they should play to achieve the fullest potential of human beings…which makes him a philosopher first and a robot-maker second.
Many past philosophers have come to the same conclusions about humanity as Prof. Ishiguro, but none of them were robotics engineers, and none of them had the ultimate goal of creating robots that were indistinguishable from human beings in attitudes, values and behavior.
The closer the professor gets to this goal the more important it will be for him to program the androids so that they are, in fact, different from human beings—to make sure that they are not programmed to have the human propensity for irrational thinking and destructive behavior.
All of this may appear at first glance to be idle contemplation, but given the astounding advances that Prof. Ishiguro and other Japanese scientists are making in programming robots the eventual appearance of human-like androids is probably inevitable. And at some point, they could look at human beings as cockroaches…and put their foot down!
Copyright © 2009 by Boye Lafayette De Mente