A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sherry Turkle, author of reclaiming conversation, is constantly questioning the role that technology plays in our lives. From personal computers and medical technology to children’s toys that now include sophisticated artificial intelligence, the pace of technological progress has sped rapidly within the last several decades. But has often been the case in the past, our emotional and ethical progress lags substantially behind the advance of technology, and this is what principally concerns Turkle.
As we devote fewer hours of the day to face-to-face human interactions, sometimes substituting an online social experience, are we adversely affecting our deep evolutionary need to be social — to be an integral part of a real human community? Creators of artificial intelligence measure its effectiveness against how well human qualities like empathy, listening, affirmation, and love can be imitated. The famous “Turing Test,” a contest which tests a person’s ability to distinguish between having a conversation with another human and a conversation with a machine, is merely one example.
But there is something deeper to empathizing, listening, and loving than giving the convincing appearance of having emotion. Indeed the risks of living in an emotional fantasy, where we believe we have genuine relationships with machines that necessarily lack worldly human experience, outweigh the potential benefits, says Turkle. Here she issues a “call to arms” against giving our emotional lives over to robots.
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