Monday, June 08, 2015

The trouble with love-dolls; consciousness & zombies

This stuff is getting so mainstream.

Love Dolls at $50,000 a throw
The Times had an article in the Saturday Magazine about Matt McMullen's company, Realdoll (only click on this link if you're happy with hyper-realistic female nudity).

I was most interested in the following observation.
"McMullen has attempted to introduce robotic enhancements along the way. They’ve seldom worked, though. He has tried internal heating, to get past that cold, sticky feel of the rubber. “We had three different versions of a heater, but we haven’t released any of them. Either it’s not completely safe, or it didn’t get warm enough, or it got too hot.”

He even got his dolls to gyrate at one time – a step into the animatronic arena. He installed a motor in the chest cavity. There were various speeds and sequences. “I won’t say she’s fully twerking, but that kind of thing,” he says. “But the downside is the noise factor. You hear this rrr-rrr, rrr-rrr.” He sounds like an old windscreen wiper. “It’s just not a turn-on.”
And it's not just the noise.
“It would be great to give the face 45 points of articulation, and all these subtle points of expression,” says McMullen. “But it’s prohibitively expensive and it’s prone to breaking down, which just becomes an ordeal. Those robots at trade shows that interact with people? That’s because there’s a team there. When the cable breaks on the left eye blink, a man just opens up the back of the head and re-attaches it. But when it’s in your house and one eye’s stuck shut? Not a happy customer.”
You know, high-reliability silent engineering is not rocket science. Someone out there knows how to do this stuff. Mr McMullen. You are so undercapitalised!

I wrote something about this at a while back.


Peter Watts, author of Blindsight and Echopraxia, takes some credit for his promotion of the idea that consciousness is a disposable epiphenomenon. Sufficiently-adapted space aliens should be the zombies of those Philosophy 'other minds' lectures, having the appearance of personalities but no inner lives.

His post is an interesting read but the idea that other people possess only the simulacrum of consciousness has a very long pedigree. I even recall (possibly mistakenly) encountering the concept from my Philosophy course at the University of Warwick back in 1970.

Could it be right? Don't think so. We're social animals spending our lives negotiating, having to give a sufficient, convincing and compelling account of ourselves to others. Our brain's social layers (those evolutionarily-modern cortical & limbic modules) fight with the selfish concerns of our reptilian hind-brains. Somewhere out of this endless internal battle comes consciousness. It's hard to see how social flexibility could do without it.

But ... our advanced machines need not be so conflicted. If those aliens were designed artifacts then consciousness might be a conflict-resolution function superfluous to their requirements.

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