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Biology 103
2002 First Paper
On Serendip

The Rise of the Machines:

The Controversy of Artificial Intelligence Humans

Laura Bang!

     Robby, Gort, Rosie, T-800, C-3PO - what do these names have in common? They are some of science fiction's most memorable androids - artificial intelligence robots resembling humans - from Hollywood's imaginings of humans' experiments with creating artificial intelligence. (6) There are several branches of artificial intelligence (abbreviated 'AI'), but the one to be focused on for this paper is the branch of AI that is trying to imitate human life. If successful, these artificial humans would have a major impact on our way of life and how we view ourselves.

     There are many different definitions of AI. Artificial intelligence, according to John McCarthy of Stanford University's Computer science department,

"is the science and engineering of making intelligent
machines, especially intelligent computer programs.
... Intelligence is the computational part of ability to
achieve goals in the world. Varying kinds and degrees
of intelligence occur in people, many animals, and some machines." (1)

Scientists who work in the field of AI are primarily working to make intelligent machines, not androids or other machines that attempt to fully imitate human intelligence and behavior. They are first seeking to create intelligent computer programs that can interact with their users. (3)

     Yet Hollywood and the science fiction genre in general most frequently portray the branch of AI dealing with the creation of artificial humans (6), and the primary definition of artificial intelligence in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary is "the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior." (4) One can conclude that this definition indicates the creation of androids and other artificial humans because it mentions behavior as well as intelligence, and behavior is a humanistic characteristic, not just a quality of an intelligent machine.

     We as real humans are fascinated by the idea of an AI machine that can very closely imitate humans (at least this is the case in the U.S.). All five "Star Wars" movies are in the top fifteen of the 250 top-grossing movies in the U.S. (7) These movies all feature "droids" who have decidedly human characteristics, the most memorable of which is C-3PO, who also happens to look somewhat like a human coated in metal. Eleven of the top fifty science fiction movies (by popular vote, not the top-grossing) have humanistic robots or androids as key characters (7), and two of the American Film Institute's top 100 movies of all time are science fiction movies featuring humanistic robots, specifically C-3PO from the original "Star Wars" and HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey." (8)

     In most science fiction movies and books featuring AI robots, the focus is either on their lack of emotions, or their heightened bad emotions (such as jealousy, hatred, etc.). These AI machines are almost always seen as less than human, however closely they are able to imitate humans, most recently portrayed in the movies in 2000's "AI: Artificial Intelligence." (6) The real humans have trouble understanding the humans they have created. In this sense, the controversy of AI somewhat resembles the controversy of cloning.

     Clones are a small step in creating AI humans because the clones were not conceived naturally - they would never exist if we did not cause their conception, thus artificially creating them. If a human were successfully cloned, how would the clone feel, knowing that he/she was not created naturally, knowing that he/she is a DNA replica of someone else? And, perhaps more importantly, how would the naturally conceived humans treat the artificially conceived humans?

     How would you treat someone if you found out that he/she was an AI human - how would you treat that person if he/she looked exactly like a human and your first impression was of a human, but then you found out that he/she was entirely built by humans?

     The controversy over the creation of AI humans has been compared to the revolutionary stir caused by Charles Darwin's publications of The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. (2) There are some who are excited by the prospect of AI humans; there are some who are scared that machines will enslave the real humans, like in the movie, "The Matrix" (7); and there are some who are still not sure what to believe. Some claim that "... because computers lack bodies and life experiences comparable to humans', intelligent systems will probably be inherently different from humans." (3) Others call AI research "incoherent ... impossible ... obscene, anti-human, and immoral." (1)

     The repercussions of creating AI humans are manifold, but one of the most frightening is how our view of ourselves would change. If we are able to create true AI humans, then are we as real humans any different than machines? Are our minds more complex than computers or can humans really be imitated by AI? "... [A]ny brain, machine or other thing that has a mind must be composed of smaller things that cannot think at all. ... Are minds machines?" (3)

     There is so much controversy about AI research, and this "fairy story is hardly past its 'once upon a time.'" (5) Current technology has barely begun to take its first tentative steps toward creating AI, and if AI humans become a reality at any point in our future, there will be still more questions to be answered. If we can create artificial life, then what are we? How do we know we are not someone else's AI "project"? If we manage to create the "perfect" AI human, then do we believe that they have souls and therefore are able to continue in an afterlife? And - much more disturbing to religion - what about God? If we believe that God created all living things, and then we create artificial life - which is still life - then do we become gods? It is these last troubling thoughts that frighten people the most about AI and also put the pressure on AI researchers - if they succeed, they will essentially overthrow God.

"With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he understood that he too was a mere appearance, dreamt by another."
~ from "The Circular Ruins" by Jorge Luis Borges (9)


1) What is Artificial Intelligence?
    John McCarthy, Computer Science Department, Stanford University
    Last updated: 20 July 2002

2) Artificial Intelligence and the Human Mind
    Joseph M. Mellichamp, University of Alabama
    last updated: 4 May 2002

3) AI Topics
    AI Topics for students, teachers, journalists, and others interested in AI
    Provided by the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), 2002

4) Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

5) AI Magazine, Volume 13, Number 4 (Winter 1992)
    "Fairytales" - Allen Newell

6) Official Movie Site for Warner Brothers' "AI: Artificial Intelligence"

7) Internet Movie DataBase

8) The American Film Institute's (AFI) "Top 100 Movies of All Time"

9) Borges, Jorge Luis. Labyrinths. New Directions Publishing Corp., New York: 1964.

10) Click here for the transcript of a chat I had with an AI robot online.

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