Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Marriage to a robot?

Long a staple of science fiction, the idea of human-robot romanto-erotic relationships is getting more mainstream attention:
Humans could marry robots within the century. And consummate those vows.

"My forecast is that around 2050, the state of Massachusetts will be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots," artificial intelligence researcher David Levy at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands told LiveScience. Levy recently completed his Ph.D. work on the subject of human-robot relationships, covering many of the privileges and practices that generally come with marriage as well as outside of it.

At first, sex with robots might be considered geeky, "but once you have a story like 'I had sex with a robot, and it was great!' appear someplace like Cosmo magazine, I'd expect many people to jump on the bandwagon," Levy said.

Before you laugh, consider that some guys are already having "relationships" with REALDOLLs [not work safe!--very creepy!] that have no intelligence whatsoever.

I don't think there will be legalized marriage to robots in 2050. I doubt robots will have any legal status as persons as soon as 2050: not because they won't have the intelligence or moral sense or emotional desire necessary (they very well might) but because our social and legal system will be unable to deal with the philosophical revolution implied by the existence of such robots.

Some things that the MSNBC article doesn't seem to consider or think through properly:
  • If you can make ONE intelligent robot, you can probably make a lot of them without too much additional trouble. If robots are granted rights, what's to prevent political groups from "stacking the electorate" with robots programmed to vote how their creators want? Some movements (like the Quiverfull folks) are trying to do this with humans, but I figure the work required to raise a child is a strong dis-incentive to this kind of tactic. But such limitations do not exist for robots that could potentially be mass manufactured.
  • Once you make a robot as smart/perceptive/empathic/creative/moral/spiritual (take your pick) as a human, it is only a matter of time before Moore's Law will allow you (or the robot) to create one that is much smarter/more perceptive/more empathic/more creative/more moral/more spiritual than a human. It's not like robotic technology is going to reach some plateau of "humanness" and then just stagnate there. Once they're as smart, then in a few years they could completely surpass humans. See Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near for more thoughts along these lines.
  • If you have an intelligent robot whose mind is a computer, it should not be too hard make "backup" copies of the robot's mind. Or "clone" as many copies of the robot as you could afford hardware for. If you're married to a robot, and it copies itself, are you married to both copies? How would you determine which one is "the real one"? They very notion of personhood becomes problematic when a "soul" can be moved from one body to another, copied, transported, stored in inert form, revived, reprogragrammed, etc.
My prediction is that society will be completely unable to come to consensus around these issues, because the change of pace will be far too fast. Our culture and our biology weren't even designed to deal with today's technology, much less the technology of 2050. We haven't even been able to come to terms with the implications of birth control yet: society is still riven on this subject. And birth control is small potatoes compared to mass produced super intelligence.

The future is going to be way cool and spooky.


Blogger Sarah said...

Isn't it kinda unlikely that we will see this future? I mean given that they can't make a robot that can navigate around a coffee table? Or some legos on the floor?

As an addendum to your post, I think readers should check out . Yeah, remember when we used to go to movies like, all the time?

7:28 PM, October 16, 2007  
Blogger Sarah said...

double posting cause I messed up the html. But you get the idea.

7:29 PM, October 16, 2007  
Blogger Miguel said...

I also think even as technology gets a lot better Sarah's right that people who attempt to use a robot for fulfillment of their relationship needs will be real outliers.

That said, one more movie comment: the new print of Blade Runner is really quite amazing; they don't make 'em like that anymore.

7:44 PM, October 16, 2007  

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