The punch line here is that I do believe that we can love or feel empathy for a robot and I'll explain why we can.
For your information, I am not going to spoil the endings of the movie, so you can safely read ahead.
Love is not human-onlyWe all know pets like cats and dogs. They are likely the species that are kept most as a pet. Not weighing in the tigers and lions though. Non pet-owners, especially people who never had a pet, might find it difficult to believe that people who do have pets actually can really love their pets. People really do!
But why do people love their pets? Why are people grieving when their pet has died? I believe the most fundamental part in this love for a pet has something to do with reflection of human behavior. Behavior of your pet that 'shows' human-like emotions is a big part of the ability to love a pet. And not only the behavior is key in this, but also the feeling of actually connecting with an animal can result in feeling (at least) empathy for them.
Dolphins are smart and we can interact with them and learn all kinds of things. Same applies to dogs, cats, monkeys, rats, apes and many more. The more the animal resembles parts of a human, the more a human can feel empathy. The level of empathy differs from human to human of course, but the foundation holds truth here. I also believe that feeling empathy is the strongest with mammalian animals. Mosquitoes or the common-flew are not easily loved I guess (at least, I have troubles with that).
So, for arguments sake, lets state that humans can feel love or empathy for non-humans in the form of animals that represent some part of human behavior or emotions.
ChappieChappie is a robot who (funny, did not wrote which here...) is made sentient by the lead engineer of a corporation that makes these robots. The nice touch here is that the sentient is mentally 'born', almost like a human. It holds no knowledge yet and its brain functions are comparable to that of a human infant. Chappie grows up and throughout the movie it gets smarter real fast.
I found out that my emotional response to Chappie being mistreated is the same as to animals being mistreated. Or even a humans being mistreated. I started to care for Chappie and I hoped he would succeed in overcoming his fears and challenges he faced in this harsh world. I did say fear. It is not strange to believe that the moment a being is sentient; it will know fear of dying when it figures out that its existence can be ended. So Chappie gets to know feelings of fear, joy, happiness sorrow, loss, anger, and revenge. Including fear of death.
Physically he really looks like a robot. Metal, mechanical, rotors, buzzes and all. But in all his behaviors and all his communications he feels human. He reasons like a person and he struggles with the same questions about morality as anyone other does.
If a robot shows true AI on a level that can be recognized by and conversed with humans, is it possible to feel empathy for such a sentient being? Is it that much different than a dog or a cat? Or perhaps even a human being?
Again, I truly believe that it is possible to feel empathy for Artificial Intelligence.
Ex MachinaWhereas Chappie is more of an action movie, Ex Machina is more of a psychological one. The movie explores the very foundations of us being human and how it relates to AI. It revolves about a Turing-test that a scientist needs to perform on an AI enabled robot. Basically a Turing-test is a test that revolves around a human versus computer interaction in which the human does not know it is interacting with a computer. A spin-off thought here, what if the computer does not know it is a computer, but thinks it is a human? How can the human convince the computer that it is not human?
The robot in this movie, called Ava, is made by the company that has the world's biggest online search-engine. In a way there were many (bit scary) similarities with present reality. For that part this movie has a nicely worked out foundation on what is needed to develop an AI. Just watch the movie if you are curious how this is done.
Ava shows more similarities with humans then Chappie does. She has a female face, acts feminine, also has emotions like fear and joy, can make jokes, manipulate and lie. She even flirts with her male human opposite. It goes so far that man is starting to feel attracted (mentally and sexually) to Ava. When watching the movie, I can understand why he started to feel attracted. Especially if you see the ability of the robots to put on human skin and then actually look like a real person.
Could you love an AI enabled robot that looks like a real person? When the robot is smart and wise like a human, would you even recognize as it being artificial? And what if you do not recognize it as such, how could you not love such a robot?
Just philosophical for nowAl these questions are mostly philosophical of course, but they can become real questions for mankind in the coming decades.
The next question is, would we recognize an AI as sentient when it is an intelligence we cannot comprehend, relate with or even cannot communicate with? If so, wouldn't that be an even bigger danger for mankind then AI we can feel empathy for? A nice book that covers this topic is The Swarm. It is not artificial but biological intelligence and that is all I am going to spoil. It is a nice book and worth the read.
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