Gay marriage is so yesterday. OK, it isn’t quite yet, but everything has been said a million times and I don’t intend to repeat it. A related but much more interesting debate is already gathering volume globally. When will you be able to marry your robot or AI?
The traditional Oxford English definition of marriage:
The formal union of a man and a woman, typically recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife.
But, as is being asked by some, who says they have to be a man and a woman? Why can’t they be any sex? I don’t want to get into the arguments, because people on both sides argue passionately, often flying in the face of logic, but here is a gender neutral alternative definition:
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people called spouses that establishes rights and obligations between the spouses, between the spouses and their children, and between the spouses and their in-laws.
Well, I am all for equality for all, but who says they have to be people?
If we are going to fight over definitions, surely we should try to finish with one that might survive more than a decade or two. This one simply won’t.
Artificial intelligence, or AI as it is usually called now, is making good progress. We already have computers with more raw number crunching power than the human brain. Their software, and indeed their requirement to use software, makes them far from equivalent overall, but I don’t think we will be waiting very long now for AI machines that we will agree are conscious, self aware, intelligent, sentient, with emotions, capable of forming human-like relationships. A few cranks will still object maybe, but so what?
These AIs will likely be based on adaptive analog neural networks rather than digital processing so they will not be so different from us really. Different futurists list different dates for AIs with man-machine equivalence, depending mostly on the prejudices and experiences bequeathed by their own backgrounds. I’d say 10 years, some say 15 or 20. Some say we will never get there, but they are just wrong, so wrong. We will soon have artificially intelligent entities comparable to humans in intellect and emotional capability. So how about this definition? :
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between conscious entities called spouses that establishes rights and obligations between the spouses, between the spouses and their derivatives, and those legally connected to them.
An AI might or might not be connected to a robot. An AI may not have any permanent physical form, and robots are really a red herring here. The mind is what is surely important, not the container. An AI can still be an entity that lives for a long enough time to be eligible for a long term relationship. I often watch sci-fi or play computer games, and many have AI characters that take on some sort of avatar – Edi in Mass Effect or Cortana in Halo for example. Sometimes these avatars are made to look very attractive, even super-attractive. It is easy to imaging how someone could fall in love with their AI. It isn’t much harder to imagine that they could fall in love with each other.
It’s a while since I last wrote about machine consciousness so I’ll say how I think it will work again now.
http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/gel-computing/ tells of my ideas on gel computing. A lot of adaptive electronic devices suspended in gel that can set up free space optical links to each other would be an excellent way of making an artificial brain-like processor.
Using this as a base, and with each of the tiny capsules being able to perform calculations, an extremely powerful digital processor could be created. But I don’t believe digital processors can become conscious, however much their processing increases in speed. It is an act of faith I guess, I can’t prove it, but coming from a computer modelling background it seems to me that a digital computer can simulate the processes in consciousness but it can’t emulate them and that difference is crucial.
I firmly believe consciousness is a matter of internal sensing. The same way that you sense sound or images or touch, you can sense the processes based on those same neural functions and their derivatives in your brain. Emotions ditto. We make ideas and concepts out of words and images and sounds and other sensory things and emotions too. We regenerate the same sorts of patterns, and filter them similarly to create new knowledge, thoughts and memories, a sort of vortex of sensory stimuli and echoes. Consciousness might not actually just be internal sensing, we don’t know yet exactly how it works, but even if it isn’t, you could do it that way. Internal sensing can be the basis of a conscious machine, an AI. Here’s a picture. This would work. I am sure of it. There will also be other ways of achieving consciousness, and they might have different flavours. But for the purposes of arguing for AI marriage, we only need one method of achieving consciousness to be feasible.
I think this sort of AI design could work and it would certainly be capable of emotions. In fact, it would be capable of a much wider range of emotions than human experience. I believe it could fall in love, with a human, alien, or another AI. AIs will have a range and variety of gender capabilities and characteristics. People will be able to link to them in new ways, creating new forms of intimacy. The same technology will also enable new genders for people too, as I discussed recently. In the long term view, gay marriage is just another point on a long line.
When we set aside the arguing over gender equality, what we usually agree on is the importance of love. People can fall in love with any other human of any age, race or gender, but they are also capable of loving a sufficiently developed AI. As we rush to legislate for gender equality, it really is time to start opening the debate. AI will come in a very wide range of capability and flavour. Some will be equivalent or even superior to humans in many ways. They will have needs, they will want rights, and they will become powerful enough to demand them. Sooner or later, we will need to consider equality for them too. And I for one will be on their side.