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Written by Ruth Kinuthia |

Artificially intelligent bots are becoming better and better at modeling human conversation and relationships. In 2015, a bot named Eugene Goostman won the Turing Challenge for the first time. In this challenge, human raters used text input to chat with an unknown entity, and then guessed whether they had been chatting with a human or a machine. Eugene Goostman fooled more than half of the human raters into thinking they had been talking to a human being.

This milestone is only the start of an age where we will frequently interact with machines as if they are humans; whether in customer service, sales or medicine. While humans are limited in the attention and kindness that they can expend on another person, artificial bots can channel virtually unlimited resources into building relationships.

Tech giants such as Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft – as well as individuals like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk – believe that now is the right time to talk about the nearly boundless landscape of artificial intelligence. In many ways, this is just as much a new frontier for ethics and risk assessment as it is for emerging technology. So which issues and conversations keep AI experts up at night? Here’s a look…[1]

What will the impact be on real human relationships?

Relationships with others form the core of human existence. In the future, robots are expected to serve humans in various social roles: nursing, housekeeping, caring for children and the elderly, teaching, and more. It is likely that robots will also be designed for the explicit purpose of sex and companionship. These robots may be designed to look and talk just like humans. People may start to form emotional attachments to robots, perhaps even feeling love for them. If this happens, how would it affect human relationships and the human psyche?

Enjoying a friendship or relationship with a companion robot may involve mistaking, at a conscious or unconscious level, the robot for a real person. To benefit from the relationship, a person would have to 'systematically delude themselves regarding the real nature of their relation with the [AI]' (Sparrow, 2002). According to Sparrow, indulging in such 'sentimentality of a morally deplorable sort' violates a duty that we have to ourselves to apprehend the world accurately.

It may be difficult to predict the psychological effects of forming a relationship with a robot. For example, Borenstein and Arkin (2019) ask how a 'risk-free' relationship with a robot may affect the mental and social development of a user; presumably, a robot would not be programmed to break up with a human companion, thus theoretically removing the emotional highs and lows from a relationship. [2]

Singularity. How do we stay in control of a complex intelligent system?

The reason humans are on top of the food chain is not down to sharp teeth or strong muscles. Human dominance is almost entirely due to our ingenuity and intelligence. We can get the better of bigger, faster, stronger animals because we can create and use tools to control them: both physical tools such as cages and weapons, and cognitive tools like training and conditioning.

This poses a serious question about artificial intelligence: will it, one day, have the same advantage over us? We can't rely on just "pulling the plug" either, because a sufficiently advanced machine may anticipate this move and defend itself. This is what some call the “singularity”: the point in time when human beings are no longer the most intelligent beings on earth.

Evil genies. How do we protect against unintended consequences?

It’s not just adversaries we have to worry about. What if artificial intelligence itself turned against us? This doesn't mean by turning "evil" in the way a human might, or the way AI disasters are depicted in Hollywood movies. Rather, we can imagine an advanced AI system as a "genie in a bottle" that can fulfill wishes, but with terrible unforeseen consequences.

In the case of a machine, there is unlikely to be malice at play, only a lack of understanding of the full context in which the wish was made. Imagine an AI system that is asked to eradicate cancer in the world. After a lot of computing, it spits out a formula that does, in fact, bring about the end of cancer – by killing everyone on the planet. The computer would have achieved its goal of "no more cancer" very efficiently, but not in the way humans intended it.[3]

In conclusion, the thought of increasingly present AI systems that surpass human intelligence is scary. And the ethical issues that come with AI adoption are complex. The key will be to keep these issues in mind in order to analyze the broader societal issues at play. Whether AI is good or bad can be examined from many different angles with no one theory or framework being the best. We need to keep learning and stay informed in order to make good decisions for our future.[4]

[1] [2] [3] [4]

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