Thursday, March 05, 2009

Computer Love

A few days ago, I made a computer love joke to someone who, using their fresh-out-of-the-box Amazon Kindle 2, decided to test the text to speech feature by having it read from a romance novel. The results were...sterile, to say the least. She compared the voice to - she being slightly younger than me - a video game, Portal, and the psychopathic female computer in the game. I - being wiser and more worldly - referenced an 80s R&B pair, Zapp & Roger, and their hit song "Computer Love".

Which of course is what immediately came to mind when I found out a robot in Japan decided to go all stalker-ish on a researcher - trapping her in the office for hours, refusing to let her leave. I shit you not, true believers; read on.

Kyoto, JP -3 March 2009- Staff. Researchers at Toshiba’s Akimu Robotic Research Institute were thrilled ten months ago when they successfully programmed Kenji, a third generation humanoid robot, to convincingly emulate certain human emotions. At the time, they even claimed that Kenji was capable of the robot equivalent of love.

(Okay, let's stop here for a second. I need to digest this part. They programmed a love. Humans have been trying to figure out how to define love for...well, since existance began. Yet, magically, these repressed nerds, um, scientists, have broken it down to a algorithm?! WTF? Frankenstein, much?)

Now, however, they fear that his programming has taken an extreme turn for the worst.
(well durr...!)

“Initially, we were thrilled to see a bit of our soul come alive in this so called ‘machine,’” said Dr. Akito Takahashi, the principal investigator on the project. “This was really the final step for us in one of the fundamentals of the singularity.”

Kenji was part of an experiment involving several robots loaded with custom software designed to let them react emotionally to external stimuli. After some limited environmental conditioning, Kenji first demonstrated love by bonding with a a stuffed doll in his enclosure, which he would embrace for hours at a time. He would then make simple, but insistent, inquiries about the doll if it were out of sight. Researchers attributed this behavior to his programmed qualities of devotion and empathy and called the experiment a success.

What they didn’t count on were the effects of several months of self-iteration within the complex machine-learning code which gave Kenji his initial tenderness. As of last week, Kenji’s love for the doll, and indeed anybody he sets his ‘eyes’ on, is so intense that Dr. Takahashi and his team now fear to show him to outsiders.

The trouble all started when a young female intern isn't it ALWAYS the young, female interns? Vindication, Bill Clinton!) began to spend several hours each day with Kenji, testing his systems and loading new software routines. When it came time to leave one evening, however, Kenji refused to let her out of his lab enclosure and used his bulky mechanical body to block her exit and hug her repeatedly. The intern was only able to escape after she had frantically phoned two senior staff members to come and temporarily de-activate Kenji.

“Despite our initial enthusiasm, it has become clear that Kenji’s impulses and behavior are not entirely rational or genuine,” conceded Dr. Takahashi.

Ever since that incident, each time Kenji is re-activated, he instantaneously bonds with the first technician to meet his gaze and rushes to embrace them with his two 100kg hydraulic arms. (so...he's an overweight socially inept techno-organic/geek, who thinks every woman he sees he's in love with and is too mentally unstable to interact with them properly? Does the robot play Worlds of Warcraft and live in his mother's basement too?)

Dr. Takahashi admits that they will more than likely have to decommission Kenji permanently, but he’s optimistic about one day succeeding where Kenji failed.

“This is only a minor setback. I have full faith that we will one day live side by side with, and eventually love and be loved by, robots,” he said.

Does this all sound...oddly familiar? 2004. Will Smith. I, Robot:
Detective Del Spooner: I think you murdered him because he was teaching you to simulate emotions and things got out of control.
Sonny: I did not murder him.
Detective Del Spooner: But emotions don't seem like a very useful simulation for a robot.
Sonny: [getting angry] I did not murder him.
Detective Del Spooner: Hell, I don't want my toaster or my vacuum cleaner appearing emotional...
Sonny: [Hitting table with his fists] I did not murder him!

I have a few questions, for the lab in Kyoto:

1) Why, exactly, are you trying to program a robot to love? In this Rosie the Robot lookalike, is the goal to create robotic au pairs? Is Technonanny going to become the babysitter of the future? Let's be real: that's what you tell the investors. But really your next research project is how to make a robot's skin feel like real flesh. I saw that episode of Buffy too you perv, and that sexbot didn't fare too well in the end either.

2) How, exactly, is this robot stopping the woman from leaving the lab? I'm assuming there's a decent sized space here. Every robot I've seen, including Asimo the walking wonder, pretty much moves slower than my Nana with a walker. So why the FUCK did you MORONS apparently build this thing with a turbocharger? Because that's the only explanantion I can come up with, for it being able to stop her from leaving. Is it on tank treads? Maybe a refurbished Segway? What kind of top speed does this thing have?

3) I realize interns are underpaid and, in some cases, not the brightest bulb on the christmas tree. But I have to assume that said robot...had an off switch. Somewhere. A plug. A battery. I mean, seriously - she had to call in two male interns to come save her?! Call me paranoid, but why do I have visions of these two dorks sitting at home on their Macbook, watching everything on video - remotely controlling the robot and giggling like mad at the prospect of rescuing our fair lolita princess?

Seriously folks, this is a bad Hollywood...wait, that's an oxymoron. This is a typical Hollywood horror flick, in real life. Young female intern. Nerd scientist. He makes his move, gets rejected. Is angry. Programs robot to attack intern. Spend next 45 minutes having robot take over lab, young intern running around in the dark slowing losing articles of clothing due to "accidents". Finds the ONE cellphone working, only number she knows/who has access is nerdboy. He shows up, she thinks she's safe, falls asleep...only to wake up in his basement, handcuffed and surrounded by robotic parts - all reaching for her, proclaiming their love.

Cue scream, roll credits.

Hollywood, ya'll got my number. Let's do lunch.

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