Turing the Uncanny Valley
Robots. We make them in our own image, not from clay but from cogs, servos, and circuitry. It really does depend on our definition of the word “image.” Does it mean that they pass for us on the street, or remain unrecognized for what they are over telephone lines or chat programs? Does it mean they look like us? Think like us? Or, does it mean, perhaps, both.
My house is full of robots. Not just the trashcan-lid vacuum cleaner that seems to get a charge from being underfoot — but stuff doing stuff all over my house. Machines perform repetitive tasks that I just don’t feel like doing: washing and drying my clothes, doing my dishes, mixing and kneading dough, and yes, vacuuming. Jasmine the vacuum cleaner likes to bump against my foot like an attention-starved puppy, only to back away and spin before heading off under the couch. But she’ll be back.
More recently my home has become populated by “assistants” of several kinds. When they first came out I jumped on that bandwagon. I purchased the first one for $120. It helped with the lights. Now there is one in every room of the house — with the exception of the parrot’s room, that would invite a problem I have no desire to witness. Exactly where they all came from I do not know. But come they did, as gifts, free with purchases of other things, and mysteriously. They are nestled on bookshelves and bed tables, kitchen counters and windowsills. There is no place in the house now that they cannot hear voice commands, nowhere they cannot hear us. They live inside the TV and the refrigerator. One of them lives in my wife’s phone. Two of them live in my phone. They are everywhere.
Briefly, we can consider the future of them. They will drive our cars and deliver our groceries. They will work with emergency services (robots are being tested in Boston right now) and monitor our health in real-time. Robot AIs will badger us with telephone sales and ply us for personal information. Ultimately, they will end up in our bedrooms, programmable lovers pliably matched to fickle human whim. Nothing is more entwined than the futures of humanity and machine.