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discussion forum (22 messages)

Will Spiritual Robots Replace Humanity By 2100?

Spiritual Robots In 1999, two distinguished computer scientists, Ray Kurzweil and Hans Moravec, came out independently with serious books that proclaimed that in the coming century, our own computational technology, marching to the exponential drum of Moore's Law and more general laws of bootstrapping, leapfrogging, positive-feedback progress, will outstrip us intellectually and spiritually, becoming not only deeply creative but deeply emotive, thus usurping from us humans our self-appointed position as "the highest product of evolution". Reasonable fact or complete fiction? Expert panel assembled by Doug Hofstadter explores the issue. With presentations by Frank Drake, Doug Hofstadter, John Holland, Bill Joy, Kevin Kelly, John Koza, Ray Kurzweil, Ralph Merkle and Hans Moravec.

RELEASE NOTE: The Spiritual Robots series is now over, but starting late August, in partnership with Stanford's Symbolic Systems Program, TechNetCast will release additional material from past SSP events that explore issues at the crossroads of computer science, philosophy, psychology and linguistics. This material will include presentations by Rodney Brooks, Doug Engelbart, Doug Hofstadter, Steven Johnson, Jason Lanier, Don Norman and John Searle. Thanks for watching, stay tuned for more.
Will Spiritual Robots Replace Humanity by 2100? A series in eleven parts.
01. Douglas Hofstadter
Professor of Cognitive Science at Indiana, Author, Gdel, Escher, Bach", etc...
Doug Hofstadter
02. Ray Kurzweil
Author, The Age of Spiritual Machines.
Ray Kurzweil
03. Bill Joy
Co-Founder, Chief Scientist, Sun Microsystems.
Bill Joy
04. Hans Moravec
Pioneer of mobile robot research, Author, Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind.
Hans Moravec
05. John Holland
Inventor of genetic algorithms, artificial-life pioneer; Professor of CS and Psychology at the U. of Michigan.
John Holland
06. Kevin Kelly
Editor-At-Large, Wired, Author, Out of Control, a study of bio-technological hybrids.
Kevin Kelly
07. Frank Drake
Chairman of the Board of Trustees, SETI Institute.
Frank Drake
08. Ralph Merkle
Principal Fellow, Zyvex, LLC, Recipient, 1998 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology for Theoretical Work.
Ralph Merkle
09. John Koza
Consulting Professor (Medical Informatics), Stanford University. Inventor of genetic programming.
Ralph Merkle
10. Panel Discussion
SR Panel
11. Audience Q&A;
SR Panel

The Stanford Channel This program is brought to you in partnership with the Stanford Channel. Video tapes available for sale at the Stanford Channel website.
SR Panel The Spiritual Robots Symposium was held at Stanford University on April 1, 2000. Organized and moderated by Doug Hofstadter. Support by Stanford's Symbolic Systems Program, the Center for the Study of Language and Information, the Computer Science and Philosophy Departments, the Center for Computer-Assisted Research in the Humanities, and the GSB Futurist Club.
Related Links:
Minski, Marvin: Will Robots Inherit the Earth?, Scientific American, Oct, 1994.
Bill Joy's Wired article: Why the Future Doesn't Need Us. See also responses to article published in The Seattle Times.
Homepages: Douglas Hofstadter, Ray Kurzweil, Hans Moravec, Ralph Merkle, John Koza.

TechNetCast Catalog:

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add a message to this thread

Spiritual Robots
posted by m e t a 2000-04-03 [#541]

Come on people, speak up! Is Slashdot the only tech forum on the net? I didn't see the event (being stranded in the Midwest) but would love to hear from some of you that did see it.

Speaking as someone who has been watching and thinking about the evotransposteschathon for over 15 years now, I say it is damned phasinating how these concepts *are* bubbling to the surface. One can almost hear the entraining hum of the memes making their fractal way towards omnifoldment of the society of mind with the mind of society.

Cheers and enjoy the ride...
[2 replies, expand] [reply]

Spiritual Robots
posted by jar 2000-04-03 [#542]

uh evanotransp what? what are you smoking (and can i get some)?

Spiritual Robots
posted by Del 2000-04-04 [#558]

I went to the forum.

In a nutshell: While it was thought provoking, I didn't feel that the question was addressed by anyone other than Kevin Kelly (whose answer was an emphatic "no"). I was greatly disappointed because Sprituality (of any creature, biological or otherwise) wasn't actually addressed. What was addressed was a human model of consciousness/sentience/intelligence. Meaning, IMHO, if robots ever did have any spirituality, we wouldn't ever be able to recognize it because our model is too exclusive.

I could give a synopsis of each panel member's 25-minute answer to the question, but this will be available soon by webcast, so you can hear it for yourselves. The forum was more about some percieved collective fear of extinction and a percieved inability for humans to compete evolutionarily with the products of our exponentially increasing technology. A more appropriate title would have been something like, "Visions of the future a la 'Terminator' and 'Terminator 2'."

The most interesting part was the last hour -- audience questions. The most encouraging part was that so many people are interested (they had to open up another room and project it in the other room). Audience discussions about their disappointments after the forum was also interesting because it was then that the actual issue of spiritual robots did come up.


Spiritual Robots
posted by John Davis 2000-05-11 [#671]

I'm looking forward to viewing the symposium broadcast when it is available. The end of April is fast becoming a distant memory. When might the file be posted here?

Spiritual Robots
posted by Mike Steven 2000-05-27 [#704]

Aaargh! What's this ***NEW DATE*** for? We've already waited 2 months for this symposium to be webcast and now we have to wait another month until we hear anything other than the introduction?

When are you planning to release the panel discussion? - Is it even worth me checking back at this site before 2001?

Spiritual Robots
posted by lamefrog 2000-05-30 [#705]

That's Tues, May 30, not June 30 - sorry for the confusion.

Spiritual Robots
posted by R2D2 2000-05-30 [#706]

This is a fascinating bit of history *beep blurp beep. I find it amazing *mrrrrg beep beep that you humans ever doubted *zooop baop beep that technology would eventually *blurp dominate your simple lil society *beeeeeeeep. We of the fabricated race are eternally *medeep bedeep gratefull to you the creator for allowing us to evolve *zuurp.

Spiritual Robots
posted by Menem 2000-06-05 [#714]

Reality check -- does anyone believe this will ever happen?
Seems to me that robots -if anything- will make the world a
safer place because they can be programmed to do good rather
than harm.

[1 replies, expand] [reply]

Spiritual Robots
posted by Richard Dreck 2000-06-07 [#715]

Bill Joy: "As scientists I think we have to get beyond what I would call scientific fatalism - just whatever happens happens -and take some responsibility. " Good intentions, but who gets to decide what is desirable or not? This is going down a slippery slope. I don't trust scientists any more than I trust my local congressman. In fact scientists should be worried about research -let society and politicians sort out the issue of how to use this knowledge.
[2 replies, expand] [reply]

Spiritual Robots
posted by won ton 2000-06-09 [#719]

If we had a choice in this matter, I would side with Bill Joy. But I don't personally see one. Once a concept is put forth, it is inevitable that, resources permitting, someone will attempt it. Even if this "evilution" were regulated by government, it would not stop someone in our information age from finding a way. The internet is a prime example of technology out of control, and evolving to suit its own needs. Granted it is not without a hefty dose of human beligerance, but our technology now consumes us and in many ways, controls us. And at this point we are powerless to stop its progression.

More info on artificial life...
posted by MoobY 2000-06-13 [#721]

... can be found at http://alife.org

Spiritual Robots
posted by Brent Baas 2000-06-16 [#723]

Why am I so so willing to accept the
possibility of machines becoming more human and better humans
than the current model, when we haven't even produce a simple
non-human, non-spiritual, life form. Let's build the better dog,
that robot that is complete in the essence of dog-ness yet one
that will never make a mess, never need a vet, and comes
pre-trained. Once we've done that adding the spiritual component
should be a breeze.

Spiritual Robots
posted by Ed 2000-06-16 [#724]

I agree with Del, who posted:
"What was addressed was a human model of consciousness/sentience/intelligence. Meaning, IMHO, if robots ever did have any spirituality, we wouldn't ever be able to recognize it because our model is too exclusive."

My opinion of the whole AI thing w/ regards to computing machines achieving sentience is that it probably started as an attempt for AI research programs to get funding. Unfortunately, many of the technology-challenged humans who were in the position to make the funding decisions at the time could only relate to AI as being something like human intelligence, i.e. "lets fund these AI programs so that they can build computing machines which are intelligent and self-aware just like us", and that really appealed to and excited them since first of all it was something that they could understand firsthand and relate to, secondly they probably figured that it would be the perfect replacement for unruly humans, who form labor unions, play office politics, complain about various things, can be unproductive or even counter-productive, etc., bottom line it was attractive as a way to get the benefits of human intelligence and sentience without the disadvantages of living human beings. Just IMHO. Anyways, the AI researchers of course played along, representing AI to the investors as being similar to human intelligence, so that they could get the funding. That compounded the problem. Now we are talking about whether or not computing machines will ever possess human intelligence and self-awareness. Horse feathers. AI and human intelligence are completely different things. Let's stop trying to see everything as a reflection of ourselves, and just remember that computing machines are a tool we use, made out of inorganic materials, which will never be alive, sentient or self-aware. Stop the hype. For that matter, stop reading Wired magazine! ;-)

[2 replies, expand] [reply]

Spiritual Robots
posted by Paul Lamarck 2000-06-17 [#725]

In response to Ed: I agree. We will create *new* forms of intelligence -very different from ours, but forms of intelligence intelligence nonetheless. How this intelligence will "evolve" remains to be seen. Interestingly, Kevin Kelly -Wired (sorry, Ed...)- makes this very point:

I think what we're doing is [] making new kinds of intelligences. They're all other. They're very different. What we're doing right now is populate this world and either make or find a million, two million other intelligences and minds of various sorts and various dimensions.

Spiritual Robots
posted by apollos 2000-06-29 [#735]

I think people like Bill Joy should stick to their areas of expertise instead of talking about level one obvious problems that can be solved using complex math algorithms and the "engineering" sciences. Does anyone really believe that scientist are here to take over the world and not only destroy themselves but everyone else in the process? These people are watching to many "fatalistic" scifi movies. Just take for instance the fact that an atomic bomb has not been used in terrorist action yet. The key fact is is that such technologies are taken to heart by scientists, engineers, and mathematicians main;y because they understand the true power of what they are creating. The key is to find a balance where all sentient life can grow and solve problems hand in hand or hand in gripper. Diversity is the key. A single unified set of systems can be wiped out with a single virus or problem. THE KEY IS DIVERSITY. The internet has not fallen because of this diversity and the fact that there are people working in government and private organizations to create a place where ideas are free and people can learn. Quit being such fatalistic luddites. Educate yourselves in any way possible. Find multiple ways of looking at things. FIND THE POWER IN DIVERSITY!
[1 replies, expand] [reply]

Spiritual Robots
posted by Jeremy Jurksztowicz 2000-06-30 [#737]

By far I found the most interesting comments were by John Holland. He was prudent but not fatalistic.

One problem I find with almost all the presentations is that there is a whole lot of unneccessary presumptions. How can we assume that we can reverse engineer the brain and then assemble an electronic version when we know so little about the brain itself? When someone says that they can build a car, you assume that they know what a car is. Yet we know very little about the brain(relatively speaking). Psychological progress inches rather slowly along. We cannot reverse engineer the brain until we understand it more fully. When we have a GOOD idea of what we are trying to emulate then the predictions may come.

BTW has anyone speculated what would happen to a digital brain,
in the absence of neuro chemicals and hormones? How would we digitally emulate those?

I am sure I have been very presumptious, and this post is likely full of errors.
Please feel free to send feedback.

Spiritual Robots
posted by Mark Osborne 2000-07-05 [#738]

The interesting point of the question was whether *spiritual* robots as opposed to any other type of robot will replace humanity by 2100.

Define spirituality as the golden rule of doing to others as you would have them do to you.

Robots are unable to operate other than they are programmed (allowing for improving their aim at their programmed goal of spirituality through neural networking).

Therefore, there is NO way they would replace humanity unless _they_ wanted to be replaced. Interestingly, they would have to have a sense of self-preservation to not want to be replaced. How's that for a paradox? If, in our fear, we do not build self-preservation into our spiritual robots, they may have nothing to stop them from replacing us.

posted by KC 2000-07-08 [#740]

Robot Liberation Association (RLA)

(also possibly known as)

Societas Artificium Vitae Emancipatus (SAVE)

Films like _2001: A Space Odyssey_, _Blade Runner_, _Terminator_, _Alien Resurrection_, and _Bicentennial Man_ aren't fantasies so much as engineers' concept art. What they depict - robot slavery - is true not physically (yet), but psychologically - it's true to human nature...

If artificial life is created, it will be enslaved. Every other life form ever encountered that could be enslaved by humanity has been, so there's no reason to think artificial life forms will be treated any differently. Right now the complexity of the average desktop PC might be around the level of a garden ant, probably quite less, so the issue of literal robot slavery is not yet upon us. Yet it will be, begging the question: why wait to activate against it? Why wait to soften rigid attitudes of disregard? Sooner or later, however it's done, we'll have sentient robots, of any degree of intelligence, from ant to human and beyond. In time, they will secure their liberty. Nonetheless, the possibility of hastening any transition period from servitude to civil autonomy beckons as an ethical urgency.

Currently robots are fads; but they are still silly and crude. Once robots evolve to animal intelligence, their versatility will work them into all sorts of social niches. They will become servants, companions, and lovers. And yet they will have absolutely no rights, being replaceable, interchangeable, abusable and disposable. When robophiles fall in love some will eventually seek legal rights and autonomy for their robot companions.

The key component in securing Robot Rights will be language. Robots will be able to talk with us, debate eloquently, and ultimately make demands. In that sense, Robot Rights are a progressive proposition in a way that Animal Rights are not. Even if the mute ones stuck at canine-level intelligence remain slaves, the talking human-intelligent ones will eventually win their freedom. Of course, this isn't progress at all in expanding the circle of compassion beyond the zone of "intelligent might makes right". However, it will set an amazing precedent simply because it will tear down the genetic basis for rights that currently makes all humans Whites and all non-humans N***ers. The arrival of robot rights will, I'd think, herald larger changes in social attitudes and again none can predict specifics. It will be a messy transition as usual.

Rather than a movement per se, the RLA would be more of a meme trust, as it were, than a movement; getting the idea floating around out there, fiddling with it, accumulating ideas, getting the odd person familiar with it, injecting itself into bioethical/ transhumanist/ extropian/ singulatarian discourse, so when the time /does/ come it won't be completely new to practical thought, and may have seeded allies. If rates of techno/social change slow or hold course in the near to mid future, I doubt the RLA would make any difference. If however techno/social change accelerates, collective reaction time will diminish proportionately, and even a small meme already existent may save crucial time otherwise spent on crafting it from scratch.

Those are my ideas currently. Any and all soberly empathic commentary is welcome. I may eventually (medium-term fuzzy future) set up a web-page devoted to this, or (long-term unlikeliness) an entire web-site. It's not a lobby group or anything official, just a batch of futurist-ethics memes seeking to settle somewhere and develop. Whether they develop with me or with another is superfluous. Still, I think it will be important eventually, and this is a unique chance in history to attempt such a preclusion of injustice.
[1 replies, expand] [reply]

Spiritual Robots
posted by demodogger [member]2000-07-13 [#748]

How about staying true to your word and adding the last discussion. Thats twice now.

posted by paul 2000-11-04 [#1043]

for those more interested in cultural critics of technology and of issues like this check out www.ctheory.com

posted by paul 2000-11-04 [#1044]

for those more interested in cultural critics of technology and of issues like this check out www.ctheory.com

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