Designing machine intelligence — inspiration from the Silver Screen (part 3)

This is part of a series to draw inspiration from the silver screen, as a way to ‘peak into the future’ of artificial intelligence (check part 1 and part 2). In other words: AI movies as a way to prototype machine intelligence and its possible impact on human life.

In this article: unnecessary consciousness

Next Gen Poster

Netflix’s Next Gen (no spoilers)

This particular gem is about a girl befriending a robot, which is a familiar theme in movies (Big Hero 6 and The Iron Giant, even the first Transformers movie and Bumblebee have the same premise). The girl is skeptical about robots and doesn’t like the way new robots find their way in every house (a plot eerily similar to I, Robot with Will Smith).

The movie has a great atmosphere and I found its world building super interesting. In the world of Next Gen almost everything has artificial intelligence applied to it, in the most extreme form possible. Every household object has its own personality: mailboxes, the doors, cleaning robots…

The noodles cup about to be thrown away

The Noodles-cup is the most extreme example: after you finish eating, the cup throws itself away, obviously not being happy about its life. Later on, in a massive fight-scene, a door sees incoming damage and is scared and one of the mailboxes is laughing just before being destroyed.

This leads to an interesting philosophical question: should we feel sad for the mailbox and the door? The characters in the movie obviously don’t care.

Is it okay to assign consciousness and then laugh when it gets destroyed so easily?

The tale of a cow and a paranoid android

Just like in Next-Gen, a lot of random things get intelligence in the Hitch-hikers guide to the galaxy. Doors, sad robots (Marvin, the paranoid android) and even cows.

In the restaurant at the end of the universe a cow personally explains to you why it’s ethical (and really tasty) to eat it.

An interesting use of sentience, but also pretty uncomfortable!

Rick's butter bringing robot

Your task is to bring me the butter

When Rick creates a robot with a consciousness just to have it pass butter, we think of him as a cruel guy. The robot hangs it’s head and Rick tells him ‘that’s just life’, it’s funny - but cruel :)

So… Ethics?

My examples show applying artificial consciousness to random systems is a slippery slope. It’s funny in a book or movie, but how happy would it make us in real-life?

Maybe it actually degrades the idea of consciousness? If doors, mailboxes and food are intelligent and conscious, would that drag your value of consciousness down? 🤔

images in this post are not under the Creative Commons license