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Tom Toles
Posted at 07:15 AM ET, 05/22/2013

Artificial emotionality

I see the world is starting to catch up with me on robots. Actually the world of robots is way ahead of me, but I’ve been in second place writing about them. Catching up with me now is the rest of the media, in decididing that, hey this technological revolution that is about to change EVERYTHING just might be worth a story or two!

I was opining just a few short days ago about how computer-assisted medical diagnosis is this undiscussed solution to a lot of real medical errors. But undisscussed or not, and resisted or welcomed, here it comes. For the non-clickers, it’s a story about Watson, the supercomputer which has retired from playing Jeopardy in order to get a real job in oncology. There is too much real-world value here to be denied forever, so it will be used, sooner or later, and yes, it will be part of a transformation of medicine. The key line about how this will impact health provider personnel is “maybe what's really needed is a kind of professional we don't have yet.” You bet.

Another development is in mental health diagnosis. Here we have a machine to do some of what a psychologist does, and some things they don’t, because they can’t. This is one I personally consider more fraught, but not because of effectiveness questions. I suspect there will be real added value of some sort. But what I don’t like is its implementation of the idea that we should “humanize” robots. I don’t think we should. We will, though, and there’s nothing I can say or do that will stop it. People like this idea, so it will be done. Market forces, and it does. But here’s why it’s a bad idea. The key distinction between artificial intelligence and actual life, as in human beings, isn’t intelligence at all. It’s FEELING. This is crucial and the morally indispensable division between machine and human. Mimicking feeling is not feeling, although soon enough it will be impossible to tell the difference. And then we won’t be able to understand or talk about it coherently anymore. You know the old line about “if you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made”? Well, robots soon will have it made.

By  |  07:15 AM ET, 05/22/2013

 
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