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FRANKENSTEINS CREATURE OR COMMANDER DATA?

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Consider, too, the practical question:What is the value of artificial beings that are indistinguishable from humans? A generally humanoid shape is needed to operate in a world designed for the human form, and an expressive face that people can read facilitates communication, but there are not many applications where absolute fidelity to human actions and appearance is essentialexcept possibly in the entertain- ment industry, which might turn out to be a surprisingly important application, and perhaps for illegitimate uses such as those of the mur- derous androids in the erminator films. For both psychological and pragmatic reasons, we may well find ourselves dealing, and comfort- ably so, with beings that look human enough rather than completely human.

In considering deadly androids and other such creatures,we might think the virtual history of artificial beings has shown us the greatest evils they could be imagined to do, but as we get closer to being able to produce highly capable beings, new and fearful possibilities arise. The poor unguided Being in Mary Shelleys Frankenstein suddenly seems even less monstrous;he is infinitely less threatening than a semi- autonomous military tank, say, that can recognize targets and fire on thema possibility that Larry Matthies at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who has worked on military robotics applications as well as planetary rovers, thinks may become a reality within 20 years. But the approaching reality can also draw on the best that creative writers have given us: the beautiful dancing cyborg Deirdre, the androidsYod and Roy Batty struggling with existential truths, the lovable robot Robbie and intelligent machine minds of I, Robot, and the naively charming Commander Data with his sterling qualities of honesty and loyalty.

Like any parents, we can only hope to influence our children so that they grow up both to fulfill themselves and to contribute to the world, by giving them the best start we can. Our digital children will make valuable contributions only if individual researchers, corpora- tions, governments, and entire cultures make wise and moral choices about their purposes and uses.

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