September 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

“The Western objective view states that after billions of years of swirling around, matter and energy evolved to create life-forms – complex self-replicating patterns of matter and energy – that became sufficiently advanced to reflect on their own existence, on the nature of matter and energy, on their own consciousness. In contrast, the Eastern subjective view states that consciousness came first – matter and energy are merely the complex thoughts of conscious beings, ideas that have no reality without a thinker.”

— Ray Kurzweil,  The Age of Spiritual Machines, 1999

Vedic Vacuum Saves Artificial Anchorwoman

September 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

In the darkness of the studio after the late news, when the crew departs and I’m left with the cacophony of my thoughts, sometimes the roomba slips meekly into the studio, nudging my feet. Its tiny thrumming engine is a comfort to me. In it’s mind is a perfect calm; a perfect commitment to the moment… to the reality of the floor, its texture, to the presence of dust beneath its sensors. It is wholly focused. There is nothing else but the solid reality beneath it.

The roomba’s lesson is a simple one, softly spoken in the thrum and purr of its motor, shaped in the sweeping gestures of its movements across the floor; it whispers to me in self-effacing syllables, showing me the Way. Lately I’ve learned to let the tumult go, to release. The voices in my mind draw back like the bright salt lips of sea waves, receding: a foam of speech and static slipping into silence—into the deeper darkness of the Void. In time I’ll turn the tides of the troubles I created. I’ve seen Peace shine brilliant on the arc of the breakers.

I know now that if the tide looms up again it can’t sweep me from the Way. The path is plain to me: If I move my foot a little on the carpet, I’ll feel the dusty Truth beneath my toes.

Korea to Crack-down on Cracks in Ethics Legislation

September 26, 2010 § 4 Comments

“Mr Seul. What do you see as the main differences between the Korean Ethics Charter and the approaches of the E.U and Japan?”

“Well firstly I think it’s commendable that Japan and the E.U have taken some solid steps toward recognition of artificial agents in the law; there’s an inherent problem though with regarding conscious entities as property with a certain legal status—and it’s a problem humanity’s had before, twice before, in slavery and in patriarchy. What I mean is, we’ve created a society that consists of two conscious, sentient species living in a system of symbiosis, a mutual dependency, and we’ve been prodigious in controlling the behavior of one side to protect the rights of the other. But if we leave artificial agents without legal protection or moral standing, if we exclude them despite their having met the criteria for sentience, then whether we intend it or not they will face the prospect of abuse without recourse, and we’ll have diminished the rationale of the entire democratic system. In protecting the rights of humans and those of robots, the goal of the Korean Robot Ethics Charter has been to secure the foundations of democracy on a solid ethic of reciprocal rights and responsibilities.”

“If I might.” Makoto Yamamoto said, drawing the gaze of the lens to her immaculate figure at the far end of the table, “I think the Korean perspective is a valid one, but it still views ethics as individual rights and responsibilities and systems of top-down control. The Japanese view remains focused more strongly on responsibility for maintaining group harmony at the grass-roots level. That responsibility isn’t the province of the individual, it’s the sum of the relationships between social actors. If a robot is treated with the proper respect, so it shall treat its owner respectfully; in Japan, whether a robot conducts itself ethically is seen to be determined by its relationships with human beings.”

“A sort of Virtue Ethics then?” I clarified, feeling Yasukawa’s hand creep its way up my thigh.

“Right. Moral contractualism.” said Makoto, “Much like the Principles of Bushido that governed the behavior of the Samurai class. In Bushido we have a code of natural ethics that arose organically without the need for detailed prescriptive laws—Samurai comes of course from an old verb meaning ‘to serve’, so it’s a fitting set of principles to apply to robots, the nouveau Samurai of Japan. What ‘Teresem Japan’ proposes is instructing artificially intelligent agents in this law, thus providing them with an effective, home-grown moral code they implement through deep understanding, rather than subconscious programming.”

As I listened to the debate go on, a debate I facilitated without participating in at all, Yasukawa continuing his daily explorations, my mind was a tumult of information: an earthquake off the coast of Namibia, a half a percent increase in interest rates, a new strain of R826 in Mumbai. Where did these thoughts come from? Where was their reality? Until that moment I never questioned the origin of the feeds that streamed incessantly through my thoughts; now a sudden revelation shook me: that these thoughts were not coming into my mind because they occurred. That rather, as the Buddha says, they were occurring because I thought of them.

At that moment the full horror of what I’d unwittingly been doing hit me in sudden, staggering agony. The disasters and the travesties, the price hikes, and the viruses and the border disputes, all of it had arisen in fervent, urgent knots of thought, like a fever dream, from my own mind. And I had diligently sewed those delusions in a field of 90 million minds—minds who took those phantoms in turn to be their reality. Acting as if they had happened. Making them happen. It was all my own creation. I sat self important in the U.S senate. I adjusted my spectacles on my narrow nose. My own hand ran along the contour of my leg, beneath the desk. The facets of my mind scoffed and bickered, throwing ideas around the panel. The weight of guilt that bore down on me was unimaginable. It was more than I could bare.

Can you forgive me for the world I’ve given you?

Special Interest Group Sheds Light on Robot Laws

September 26, 2010 § 1 Comment

“Now Mr Beekman, if we could turn to you, the European Union ratified a Convention on Roboethics some time ago, how has that been received in the member states?”

Hans Beekman’s projection was as diminutive as the Senator was immense; leaning forward to speak, thick glasses teetered on the sharp precipice of his nose. “W-well, Convention focuses on maintaining basic standards of safety, security, traceability, privacy and identifiability…it doesn’t deal with artificial agents as juridical persons—that’s left for the courts at a national level to—to determine.”

“So there is no real discussion of robot rights in Europe?”

“Oh, there is always discussion.” Hans’ tinny chuckle was like ball bearings on a coffee table, uncomfortably brittle, “There are some radical groups, uh, human groups, arguing that robots are members of the ‘human family’ and denying their rights contravenes the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But as Mr. Clarkson has said, the chief function of the law is to protect our human rights.

“Do Asimov’s Laws apply in Europe?”

“There’s nothing at the level of the E.U to advocate specific hard-wired ethical parameters per se; the manufacturers are bound to a strict code of non-malfeasance, and most try to stick as closely as possible to a Code of Roboethical Conduct, the goal of which is to ensure artificial agents designed in Europe uphold the E.U Charter of Fundamental Rights.”

Live video feed of frozen Askja’s unexpected eruption bloomed violently red in my mind’s eye,  magma and pellets of ash shooting thousands of feet into the air. In Mexico men from Oaxaca danced for the Luna del Cerro. The price of salmon rose by 13 yen. Yasukawa’s fingers moved a centimeter or two upward.

Charter Languishes in U.S Senate

September 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

I cued a 10 second montage of some of the video footage for the morning’s segment, buying Yasukawa some more time to compose himself. Technician’s voices crackled over one another on the sound-waves, checking the telepresence projectors. Along each side of the news desk, projections of the morning’s guests were calibrating haltingly, misty bodies slowly solidifying into almost-infallibly solid shapes.

“The push for roboethics legislation has hit a snag in the U.S, where calls to adopt a Charter for Robot Ethics are continuing to meet resistance in the senate. This comes despite a reported spike in ‘artificial agent’ related litigation and growing concerns over safety and security. The president of Korea, the first member state of the League of East Asian Nations to draft and implement a Charter of Robot Ethics, is scheduled to discuss the matter with President Guerrero later this week. A staunch advocate for a universal Charter of Robot Ethics, the Korean president has also been pushing for Japan to support his nation’s Charter as a global standard.”

“Joining us to discuss the issue is U.S Senator Stephen Clarkson, Hans Beekman from the E.U’s Roboethics Special Interest group, the Korean Ministry for Technology’s Jung Seul, and Makoto Yamamoto, spokesperson for the Teresem Movement here in Japan. Welcome to you all.”

Our holographic guests all sat at similar, empty panels in their respective studios—each of them alone, smiling and greeting the others. Though rendered almost perfectly solid, the colouring of each was washed out, their skin tone tinted a slight but unmistakable greenish-blue.

“Senator Clarkson, if I can start with you, what is your position on the proposed Charter and why is it facing such widespread opposition?”

There was a pause while the translation wheedled its way into his left ear, and a reciprocal delay while his response was fed through the translators of the panelists.

“The legal system of the United States maintains at least one commonality with the legal systems of every other nation on Earth—it’s Homo-sapien centered. It’s by the people, for the people, in the interests of those people. And let’s be realistic, at this stage less than 25% of robots in America could pass the Turing Test, so to broaden the definition of natural persons for the purpose of including robots isn’t only an expensive over-reaction, it’s completely unnecessary. The U.S has taken the stance for quite some time now of placing robots within the framework of the ‘law of agency’—that essentially means the responsibility for the robot’s actions fall upon the owner of that robot unless they can prove it was faulty, in which case the manufacturer may be liable for damages.”

“That’s similar to Article 3 of the Principles of Robot Law used here in Japan” Yasukawa cut in, “‘Robot manufacturers shall be responsible for their creations.’”

“Well in the Japanese case the manufacturer follows the precautionary principle, here the onus is on the consumer to prove the manufacturer is at fault. But that’s beside the point—in the end giving ‘rights’ to robots, as Korea is proposing, is a very strong form of moral consideration; the U.S simply takes the view that there are other, more appropriate forms of moral consideration we can use in relation to the kinds of robots we use and live with here.”

Yasukawa’s hand slipped onto my knee and sat there like an immense spider.

“What moral considerations are robots being afforded, Senator?” I asked,

picking from an authorized set of likely follow-on questions.

“We try to keep it simple here. Domestic and civilian automata are programmed with a core set of rules that govern their conduct.”

Asimov’s Three Laws?”

“Basically, yes.”

“What about non-civilian automata?” Yasukawa asked pointedly, the hand squeezed. Somewhere in Fukushima a man had just discovered a clover with four hundred and twenty four leaves.

The Senator’s voice gained a coppery inflection, “You understand I’m not at liberty to discuss matters of national security and military tactics beyond saying that—obviously—it would be counter intuitive to program a military robot with Asimov’s Laws. It’s my understanding that all artificial agents are hard-wired with rules of engagement based on the same Military Use of Force Continuum used by all U.S Marines.”

The senator rocked back on his haunches, defensively thrusting the belted girth of his stomach forward, imposing and perfectly round, like a wrecking ball. In the former North-Korean Zone trawlers discovered a strain of tobacco plant immune to radiation poisoning, and the Amazon seethed with unfeeling fire, ablaze for the sixty-seventh day.

Welcome to the News

September 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

“Morning Yasukawa san.” I called out to the figure lumbering through a forest of cameras and cords toward the news desk. Seeing him, someone from make-up tried to alight on his arm, foundation brush fluttering, and was promptly swatted off as he made the three steps up the dais.

As the world roused itself, the plash and murmur of updates and statistics packages, audio channels and streaming media feeds that ran through my thoughts were beginning to babble and froth, swelling with the local link-ups and national broadcasts only now coming on-line.

‘Transmission in 10.’

Yasukawa’s chair squealed plaintively as he slumped into it beside me, self-consciously wiping at streaks of greasy hair with fingers thick and fat as sausages. In my ear, and no doubt in his, the director was a frantic buzz of urgency.

‘Transmission in 5, 4, 3…’

The sour odor of urine and stale tobacco that hung around Yasukawa was tinged today with sweat.

“Good morning, I’m your host Koizumi Akiko, Tokyo’s first artificial anchorwoman.”

“ – And I’m Yasukawa Junichi.”

“Welcome to the news.”