Hans Moravec wrote a book in 1990 called Mind Children, about robots and the future of humans and artificial intelligence. I haven’t read the book, but I did read Moravec’s “Human Culture: A Genetic Takeover Underway“, which influenced me greatly. I included it as required reading for an Artificial Life class I taught at Tufts in the 90’s.
As we approach the singularity, it will become increasingly evident that Darwinian evolution will have minimal effect as technological evolution races forward at ever-increasing speeds, leaving human genetic evolution in the dust. In a way, you could say that human evolution is indeed happening right now at a very high rate (that is, if you replace the ancient agents of replication (genes) with the more nimble agents of replication (memes)…and the emergent manifestation of interacting memes: human culture – and technology.
…which leads me to why I used Moravec’s book title in the title of this blog post. Currently, children have more than good old-fashioned cartoon characters and plastic dolls to play with. Their toys are coming to life.
When you add augmented reality with artificial intelligence, a new kind of animated personality begins to emerge.
Real and imaginary are about to enter into a future dance in which they will whirl at such a velocity that we may have a hard time telling them apart.
But what are the consequences of animated characters that become more “alive” than ever before? Children are more prone to failing the Turing Test. So…will more realistic AI characters confuse their developing theories of mind?
Some argue that this is mostly positive; it simply fuels a child’s imagination, which already naturally blends real and imaginary as a matter of course.
The picture below is from an article titled: Neuroscientists identify brain mechanisms that predict generosity in children.
This kind of research is being used by some toy manufacturers and game designers to teach kids social skills.
Let me just state an opinion, for the record:
If you want kids to learn how to socialize, there is no substitute for playing with REAL kids.
(A possible exception may be autistic kids who need tools to give them some non-face time to give them some training for the real thing.)
Now, why would I state that kids need to play with each other to learn to socialize, while at the same time eagerly developing self-animated characters in augmented reality?
I believe the key is in the intent.
The way we must bravely enter into our technological future and to prepare that future for our children is to keep a clear distinction between real and imaginary – to stay on top of the game, as it were. And to give kids the tools to enhance their imaginations – while not distorting their sense of reality. This may become a challenge as screen-time and face-time blur with ever convincing digitally-enhanced experiences. But it is important to keep in mind.
We need to keep the problem of “robot morality” in the same bucket as age-old problems of how kids react sympathetically to cartoon characters.
That’s my opinion. What’s yours?