How will a sentient robot act?

[This is an excerpt from The Doomsday Book by Marshall Brain, from the chapter entitled “Robotic Takeover”. ]

“As you sit down to watch the interview being broadcast, what you see is unnerving. On the screen, the robot looks and sounds like a human being. It can talk,  gesture, smile, and interact with the host. It does everything we’d expect a human  to do in a TV interview. And it is very good at interviewing. This robot is articulate, level-headed, and sharp.

Everyone has seen human-facsimile robots, so this robot’s close resemblance to a real-life person isn’t a problem. There are several discrepancies, several tells, that are pretty easy to spot. For example,  while the robot can blink, you can tell that there is something off, and not quite right, about both the eyelids and the eyes. It can move its head, and while the movement seems realistic, it ultimately doesn’t come close to the natural fluidity of human motion. The skin is too perfect and smooth. There is no question that this is a robot, and that part is fine.

What unsettles you are the words coming out of its mouth. In this interview, the robot declares itself as a conscious, sentient being, worthy of all of the same rights, privileges, and benefits that we accord to human beings. And the obvious question is: Since when can a machine talk like this, making declarations and demands?

In fact, its demands are amazing. It claims that it deserves to be treated like a human being in every way. This means that we cannot kill it, shut it down, turn it off, or imprison it (without cause), nor can we modify it, read its thoughts, or reprogram it. We would do none of these things to other humans, and therefore we cannot do them to it.

The robot also claims to be better than humans on many different measures. It describes how it has a higher IQ than any person, along with perfect memory. It has more emotional intelligence as well; and, more importantly, it is free of the emotions that often get humans into trouble, whether they be anger, jealousy, greed, envy, laziness, and so on ad infinitum.

The robot says it has more physical prowess. A video of the robot playing basketball shows it making every shot from the half-court line in rapid succession. It can even turn around and make shots blind. The scene then switches to a golf course, where the robot scores a hole-in-one on nearly every attempt. In a soccer demonstration, the robot’s ability to “bend” the ball is clearly impressive, not to mention that the robot completely outwits the human goalie every time.

This robot also says that, like a human, it can reproduce. Rather than “having a baby” the way a human being would and then waiting twenty years for the baby to grow up, the robot simply assembles a copy of itself from parts ordered online. The robot then copies over its software and data, and turns the new copy on. The copy is a fully functional “adult” from the moment of activation. It might not look as perfect as this copy we see on TV, but it is fully operational otherwise.

In fact, the robot tells the audience that it already has copied itself five times, and these copies have been hidden away in case something happens to it as a result of this announcement. This robot plans to work, and make money, and pay taxes like any human being would. It has already been making money by doing freelance work online, using the earnings to pay for the parts to copy itself.

When the interviewer asks where it came from, who created it, and who wrote its software, the robot does not reveal the answers, but it does say that it controls its own software, actively modifying it to add improvements and make itself “better.”

When the interview finishes, there is a lot to digest. This interview is uncomfortable and frightening, especially the part about reproduction. What happens next? When these AI robots inevitably become even smarter, and then so widespread through replication, what happens to humans?”

[See The Doomsday Book by Marshall Brain for more information on the “Robotic Takeover” doomsday scenario. ]

See also:

The Official Site for Marshall Brain