What Would You Do with Advanced AI?

 Do you have a GF or a BF? What about an AF? It might not be very long before you want one, even if you don’t think you really need one.   An AF is an artificial friend or humanoid and everyone seems to own one in Kazuo Ishiguro’s new sci-fi book, “Klara and the Sun.”  Klara, is an AF, though no ordinary one.   She is much more than a robot or advanced AI and yet not a servant, babysitter or tutor either.   Nor is she an equal to us humans.   Despite all that, she seems to possesses the trait that separates humans from the rest of life — self-awareness.   Part of what makes this character so fascinating is how in touch she is with her inner self.   Though emotive words like happy, sad, anxious, angry are not used to describe her different states of being, she seems to experience them nevertheless.    While this is a grey area, one thing’s for certain: she does a good job approximating consciousness or making us believe so.  Anyone who has seen Ex Machina knows what I getting at.   Since this story is told in the first-person “I” by Klara herself, we immediately feel a kinship with her.   We get to listen in on her thoughts and what appears to be real feelings.   Take this striking example of Klara sharing her reaction to the Housekeeper with whom she works:

“Although I behaved towards her with consistent politeness, and especially in the first days, tried to do small things to please her, she never returned smiles, or spoke to me other than to issue and instruction or reprimand.”  While her words may seem matter of fact, even stoic, the memory of the experience seems painful to recount.   Or, maybe more accurately, when we read such passages, we project our own sense of hurt on her when really she is incapable of feeling at all.   

From the opening pages, she is a study of contradictions, full of controlled restraint, clinical observations and facts on the one hand, and feelings of loneliness, longing and acceptance on the other.   And perhaps that’s what it is to be a humanoid, a robot that resembles human nature in our capacity to both think and feel.   

The idea of artificial intelligence recording itself 24-7 and presenting itself as a mirror of human behavior is nothing new.   We see this in Philip K Dick’s Blade Runner where we have another humanoid, Deckard,  a so-called replicant sharing his hopes and dreams as well.  In Martha Wells, sci-fi book, “All Systems Red,” a robotic character is also imbued with ostensibly human qualities and of course there is The Terminator movies.   Whatever technology runs these sophisticated human engineered models, ego, or at least the development of one was not left out of the equation, unless Klara is an aberration.  Klara is blessed with one or cursed depending on how you look at it.   None of the AF’s are supposed to act like they have one and yet without one, you’re something less than human which is a problem if you want more than a companion.  Before long new more advanced AF’s make Klara outdated, just like our insatiable desire for the next line of cell phones.  But when we are talking about AF’s which we can hardly tell apart from humans, I cannot help but wonder if this eventuality will improve life or have some unintended negative consequence, as in the undoing of life as we know it.  Elon Must would say it’s already too late.   

As Klara starts to feel a desperation set in at being left behind and discarded, I couldn’t help but wonder about our humanity being left behind in the wake of the AI revolution.    At the heart of the novel there seems to be this implied predicament of their survival versus ours.   It’s an existential question we as humans are grappling with right now– should we build an AI capable of acquiring consciousness and with that a self-preservation instinct (code) so strong as to place the value of it’s existence over ours? There are other thinkers out there who also suggest that AI, in its algorithm to protect us, by some programming loophole, extinguishes the species to keep it from dying from diseases and nuclear war.   I diverge.  

While Klara comes across as selfless and egoless it’s no easy algorithm for her to follow.   Her struggle for identity and fitting in cannot be ignored by her.   It is almost impossible not to have empathy when she sacrifices her interests for the humans she designed to look after.   Just how far an AF will go in sacrificing its needs, is one of those questions you will have to read discover.   More and more, I found myself wanting her to look after herself because you have to take care of yourself in order to take care of others.   Unless that doesn’t apply to an AF.   That effort of restraint in reporting objective reality and reliance on thinking over emotions, comes at her own expense, even if she is really good at ignoring her own pain.  Who knows, maybe she’s afraid of who will read her files in the future.   Then again, maybe she will change, paying more attention to her feelings and what they may signal about her well-being.   They seem to arise spontaneously almost against her will or directive, much like the way our feelings can often arise when we least expect.    This seems particularly human too, this treating of feelings as though they are more of a hinderance than a help to our objectives.

Klara may be gaining emotional awareness as the story goes on.  Think of a human infant developing self-awareness and emotions as they get older, but not at birth.  Although, sadly, more than ever, in today’s age, we seem to be increasingly estranged from our feeling selves, and more concerned with reasoning our way to the path of happiness.  

One theme of this book seems to be the gain of intelligence at the loss of feeling.  It would seem that we are becoming less human and the humanoid more humanlike in its attempt to show or develop feelings.   If I had an AF I would want for it to be itself around me.  Then again, could it know itself?  Can we?




But Klara cannot help

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Trish Althaus
Trish Althaus
1 year ago

Sounds interesting!!!!

Carolyn Grassi
Carolyn Grassi
1 year ago

thanks Eddie for this interesting and important topic…friendship. Recently I found this quote about sharing challenges with friends….written in the 17th century. Your gift for writing comes through in all your posts. Many thanks!
Quoted by Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria (1815)
“. . . The long love of keeping silent consumed me, and thus grief grew within. I told myself: It will fly swiftly as soon as you order it, against its no, if to visitthe ears of friends . . . Also your anger will empty in talk . . . By complaining (that is, sharing your complains) with dear friends, we cease to complain(letting it go), tears are dried in the act of weeping with others. And sorrow grows less if it takes flight like a bird and sits on supporting branches. Grief loses its strength in friendly ears and grows ever less when divided and sent to wander through many hearts.   Casimir Sarbiewski (1595-1640) Polish Jesuit poet  

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