On 29 June 2012 The Wall Street Journal carried edited extracts of an interview with the inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil postulates that by about 2029 machines will have achieved human level consciousness and the emotional understanding which goes with it. Machines will be able to make us laugh and cry and will become anoyed when we don’t respond to them. In addition Kurzweil sees an increasing merger of man and machine (this is already happening in the case of Parkinson sufferers who have computer implants in their brains).
I am no scientist, however history teaches us that predictions about the future are notoriously hit and miss, witness for example those who postulated in the 50’s and 60’s that housework would be a thing of the past by the 1980’s. This patently did not come to pass.
The question also arises as to whether merely because a machine “quacks like a duck and walks like a duck” whether it is in point of fact a duck. In my short story “Hemlock” I wrote about a robot, Becky who can converse on matters cultural and who does, apparently possess the capacity to experience the emotions stirred by Keat’s Ode to a Nightingale, however one could see Becky’s responses as flowing from clever programming rather than from a spontaneous response to the beauty of Keat’s verse. Doubtless some will say that it matters not whether the response is due to clever programming, what is important is the fact that machines can interact with us in a human-like manner so, in effect we should treat them as ducks even though they remain clever imitations rather than the real thing.
For the Wall Street Journal’s article please visit http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304782404577490533504354976.html
For my short story “Hemlock” please visit http://kevin-morris.co.uk/2012/06/30/hemlock/
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