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Can AI Develop Empathy?
AI theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky once wrote, "The AI neither hates you nor loves you, but you are made out of atoms that it can use for something else."
While we stand at the precipice of the robot revolution, tech and science scions are weighing in on what impact it will likely have on the human race. Most foresee two ultimate scenarios, the robot apocalypse made palpable by the Terminator movies, and robots becoming our servants and companions, much like the Asimovian world of iRobot. Stephen Hawking publicly warned of the first scenario, and with good reason. Without a moral backbone, AI could go horribly wrong.
Microsoft got a glimpse recently when their tweeting AI program, identified as a 19-year-old girl named Tay, quickly turned into something of a Nazi and a sexpot. Since Tay was programmed to learn by interacting with others on Twitter, the tech giant claims that it was quickly engaged with a cluster of internet trolls who ultimately turned the program in the wrong direction. The problem of AI going haywire has become so worrisome that now a division of Google known as DeepMind is working with researchers at Oxford to develop a “kill switch,” lest AI becomes a serious threat.
Basically, a computer with human-level intelligence based solely on its own optimization may find that humans are in the way, either by trying to shut it down, or by keeping desirous resources from it. AI theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky once wrote, "The AI neither hates you nor loves you, but you are made out of atoms that it can use for something else."
It’s not just Hollywood but some of the world’s most brilliant minds who fear a robot apocalypse.
One way to make sure robots and AI stay on the helpful side is to imbue them with empathy. That’s at least according to expert Murray Shanahan. He is a professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial College London. But is it actually possible to develop a feeling robot? Not only is it possible, Shanahan thinks it’s necessary.
That’s why he, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking together penned an open letter to the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), promoting more research in AI to discover “potential pitfalls.” In the letter, Musk says that AI could become more dangerous than nuclear weapons, while Hawkins says it could spell the end of the human race. Shanahan suggests creating artificial general intelligence (AGI) with a human-like psychological framework, or even modeling AI after our own neurological makeup.
There is time to consider direction. Experts believe AI will reach human-like intelligence anywhere from 15 to 100 years from now. 2100 seems like a good year to hang your hat on, at least according to Shanahan. Besides a dangerous AI with no moral capacity, there is fear that the current economic, social, and political climate may lead to developing AGI that is purposely dangerous. In fact, unbridled capitalism has been implicated outright. "Capitalist forces will drive incentive to produce ruthless maximization processes. With this there is the temptation to develop risky things," Shanahan said. Governments or companies could use AGI to rig markets or elections, even develop military tech head and shoulders above anything currently being developed. Other governments would have to respond, creating an AI arms race.
AI could bring a whole new dimension to military capability.
Since there is no data to suggest AI would go bad, Shanahan and other experts say it isn’t necessary to ban this technology, but to put in the necessary safeguards in place to make sure it stays friendly and peaceful. To do so, Shanahan says there are certain capabilities the machine will need to have, such as the ability to form relationships, to recognize and understand the emotions of others, and even to feel empathy itself. One way is to mimic the human brain artificially. Since we haven’t mapped it entirely, that doesn’t seem likely in the short-term. Scientists at the Human Connectome Project (HCP) are working on mapping the brain. Some say that it may be possible to create algorithms and computational structures which act like a human brain, at least in theory.
Robots who can recognize and respond to human emotion are already on the market. Nao is one. This robot, just two feet tall, is put out by Aldebaran Robotics. Nao is equipped with facial recognition software. It can make eye contact and responds when you talk to it. So far, Nao has been successfully used in classrooms to help autistic children. A new model by the same Japanese firm named Pepper can recognize not only words, but facial expressions and body language, and responds appropriately in kind. But here, the robot itself isn’t feeling. For that, it would need self-awareness which requires the ability to feel what others are feeling and to think about those feelings.
We are getting close at making the outside look human. But the inside? That’s a lot more complicated.
To have real empathy is to recognize the emotions in others that you yourself have felt. For such emotions to take root, robots will have to have experiences like growing up, and succeeding and failing. They will need to feel emotions like attachment, desire, accomplishment, love, anger, worry, fear, perhaps even jealousy. Robots will need to take part in meta-cognition too, which is thinking about one’s own thinking and emotions. Science fiction writer Philip K. Dick foresaw this. In his novels, robots were simply imbued with artificial memories. A recent film, Ex Machina brings up another question, if a robot were able to show authentic emotion, would you believe it? It could be difficult discerning a robot who was really good at responding appropriately, to one that actually holds the same feelings as you.
And then say all of these problems are solved and questions favorably answered. Will robots be are equals or subordinates? And should they have their emotions controlled by humans? Or is this a form of organic slavery, meaning they should be able to think and feel how they wish? There are a lot of difficult issues to be worked out. At this point, our social, economic, and political structures may not be ready for such a disruptive change. Even so, Shanahan believes we have time now to begin wading through these thorny matters, putting some safeguards in place, and setting aside resources to be sure that robots become humanity’s closest friends, instead of our ultimate adversaries.
Learn more about Pepper the world’s first emotion-reading robot here:
A new study finds that dogs fed fresh human-grade food don't need to eat—or do their business—as much.
- Most dogs eat a diet that's primarily kibble.
- When fed a fresh-food diet, however, they don't need to consume as much.
- Dogs on fresh-food diets have healthier gut biomes.
Four diets were tested<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjY0NjIxMn0._w0k-qFOC86AqmtPHJBK_i-9F5oVyVYsYtUrdvfUxWQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="1b1e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="87937436a81c700a8ab3b1d763354843" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: AntonioDiaz/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tested refrigerated and fresh human-grade foods against kibble, the food most dogs live on. The <a href="https://frontierpets.com.au/blogs/news/how-kibble-or-dry-dog-food-is-made" target="_blank">ingredients</a> of kibble are mashed into a dough and then extruded, forced through a die of some kind into the desired shape — think a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_extrusion" target="_blank">pasta maker</a>. The resulting pellets are sprayed with additional flavor and color.</p><p>For four weeks, researchers fed 12 beagles one of four diets:</p><ol><li>a extruded diet — Blue Buffalo Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe</li><li>a fresh refrigerated diet — Freshpet Roasted Meals Tender Chicken Recipe</li><li>a fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Beef & Russet Potato Recipe</li><li>another fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Chicken & White Rice Recipe.</li></ol><p>The two fresh diets contained minimally processed beef, chicken, broccoli, rice, carrots, and various food chunks in a canine casserole of sorts. </p><p>(One can't help but think how hard it would be to get finicky cats to test new diets. As if.)</p><p>Senior author <a href="https://ansc.illinois.edu/directory/ksswanso" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Kelly S. Swanson</a> of U of I's Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences, was a bit surprised at how much better dogs did on people food than even refrigerated dog chow. "Based on past research we've conducted I'm not surprised with the results when feeding human-grade compared to an extruded dry diet," he <a href="https://aces.illinois.edu/news/feed-fido-fresh-human-grade-dog-food-scoop-less-poop" target="_blank">says</a>, adding, "However, I did not expect to see how well the human-grade fresh food performed, even compared to a fresh commercial processed brand."</p>
Tracking the effect of each diet<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NjY1NTgyOX0.AdyMb8OEcjCD6iWYnXjToDmcnjfTSn-0-dfG96SIpUA/img.jpg?width=980" id="da892" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="880d952420679aeccd1eaf32b5339810" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: Patryk Kosmider/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tracked the dogs' weights and analyzed the microbiota in their fecal matter.</p><p>It turned out that the dogs on kibble had to eat more to maintain their body weight. This resulted in their producing 1.5 to 2.9 times the amount of poop produced by dogs on the fresh diets.</p><p>Says Swanson, "This is consistent with a 2019 National Institute of Health study in humans that found people eating a fresh whole food diet consumed on average 500 less calories per day, and reported being more satisfied, than people eating a more processed diet."</p><p>Maybe even more interesting was the effect of fresh food on the gut biome. Though there remains much we don't yet know about microbiota, it was nonetheless the case that the microbial communities found in fresh-food poo was different.</p><p>"Because a healthy gut means a healthy mutt," says Swanson, "fecal microbial and metabolite profiles are important readouts of diet assessment. As we have shown in <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jas/article/92/9/3781/4702209#110855647" target="_blank">previous studies</a>, the fecal microbial communities of healthy dogs fed fresh diets were different than those fed kibble. These unique microbial profiles were likely due to differences in diet processing, ingredient source, and the concentration and type of dietary fibers, proteins, and fats that are known to influence what is digested by the dog and what reaches the colon for fermentation."</p>
How did kibble take over canine diets?<p>Historically, dogs ate scraps left over by humans. It has only been <a href="https://www.thefarmersdog.com/digest/the-history-of-commercial-pet-food-a-great-american-marketing-story/" target="_blank">since 1870</a>, with the arrival of the luxe Spratt's Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes—made from "the dried unsalted gelatinous parts of Prairie Beef", mmm—that commercial dog food began to take hold. Dog bone-shaped biscuits first appeared in 1907. Ken-L Ration dates from 1922. Kibble was first extruded in 1956. Pet food had become a great way to turn <a href="https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/choosing-dog-food/animal-by-products/" target="_blank">human-food waste</a> into profit.</p><p>Commercial dog food became the norm for most household canines only after a massive marketing campaign led by a group of dog-food industry lobbyists called the Pet Food Institute in 1964. Over time, for most households, dog food was what dogs ate — what else? Human food? These days more than half of U.S. dogs are <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/magazine/who-made-that-dog-biscuit.html" target="_blank">overweight or obese</a>, and certainly their diet is a factor.<span></span></p><p>We're not so special among animals after all. If something's healthy for us to eat—we're <em>not</em> looking at you, chocolate—maybe we should remember to share with our canine compatriots. Not from the table, though.</p>
What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?
Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.
Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.
- A massive new study confirms that five servings of fruit and veggies a day can lower the risk of death.
- The maximum benefit is found at two servings of fruit and three of veggies—anything more offers no extra benefit according to the researchers.
- Not all fruits and veggies are equal. Leafy greens are better for you than starchy corn and potatoes.