49 – How to Build a Human


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Philosopher: “Excuse me, Miss Science? What are you doing over there?” 

Scientist: “Ah, Philosophy. So good to see you. Well, I’m working on another project that you philosophers can’t possibly understand, but will pretend that you do, and make all sorts of inane comments about.” 

P: “Huh?” 

S: “Haha. Only kidding. I’m building a humanoid robot using artificial intelligence.” 

P: “What for? That sounds like a terrible idea!” 

S: “See what I mean? You’re at it already. Everybody’s a critic!” 

P: “But why would anyone want to build a human?”

S: “Duh! Gee, I don’t know, Einstein. It might be useful for something. Maybe companionship?” 

P: “Will it be able to fly?” 

S: “Of course not! Humans can’t fly.”

P: “Last time I checked, Sherlock, humans are already flying. They fly on planes, remember? But when humans decided to build machines that fly, they didn’t try to build a human, or even a bird for that matter.” 

S: “Your point being?” 

P: “That you should focus your energy on building something useful to humans.”

S: “Well, other humans are useful to each other.” 

P: “The purpose of human existence, if there even is one, is definitely not to simply be ‘useful’ to other humans. Besides, there are already plenty of humans around. And, amazingly enough, we even know how to create more of them! It’s actually quite fun, but you probably wouldn’t know about that. Too busy fiddling with your transistors. At any rate, Ms. Scientist, how exactly will your humanoid robot be useful to humans? For what exactly? Can you please be specific? You are a scientist, after all.” 

S: “How about repairing stuff around the house?” 

P: “Then why not build a machine that can do exactly that? And faster and better than humans! You’d perform a great service to humanity if you could make a few of those AI robots that you’ve been promising for years. Robots that could actually do something useful: wash dishes, buy groceries, drive a car, clean the bathtub, repair the roof, etc. Save us poor humans from having to climb up on the roof and break our necks. My point is that building a human to ‘help other humans’ is too wishy-washy. You need a sharper focus. After all, you wouldn’t build a humanoid to fly another human around the world, right? You should focus on building machines that can serve a specific purpose. Like self-driving cars.” 

S: “We’re already doing that. Self-driving cars are just around the corner. But humans have other needs, too. My goal is to build something more general. Something that could anticipate our needs. Something lovable.”

P: “So, you’re building a humanoid that can give and receive love?” 

S: “Sure. Why not?” 

P: “But why do humans love each other?” 

S: “Not sure. But a lovable humanoid robot that can both give and receive love might be quite popular. I can see the patents already!” 

P: “But that begs the question. What is love? And what makes humans lovable?” 

S: “Well, I could start by creating an agreeable human that’s always pleasant.”

P: “But humans that are in love can also fight and disagree. I would hate a human companion that always agreed with me. My spouse has saved my butt countless times, by doling out unwanted, but desperately needed advice.” 

S: “This is getting confusing. So I should build a humanoid that is sometimes disagreeable in order to make it lovable?” 

P: “Exactly.” 

S: “But when should it agree or disagree? Sounds like an impossible task!” 

P: “Which gets back to my original point. Building a humanoid robot is a terrible idea. It’s simply impossible, because human behavior is contingent, based on unpredictable events and circumstances. How can a humanoid anticipate my needs, when even I struggle to do so? I don’t even know what I want for lunch!” 

S: “So what am I to do?” 

P: “Build machines that are dedicated to a narrow, specific task. That is all you can ever hope to do. Building a real human is a terrible idea. Humans are too fickle and unreliable to serve as useful tools. Besides, the very notion of a human as a ‘tool’ is despicable.” 

S: “Maybe, but you must acknowledge that humans can certainly be lovable at times. I just need to figure out how to incorporate that into the robot’s neural net software.” 

P: “Being able to give and receive love is part of what makes us human. We’re not machines. A machine implies a purpose. Humans have no ‘purpose’ in life.”

S: “Aha. Here I’ve caught you. Humans are machines. They’re flesh and blood. Cells. Millions of them.” 

P: “What kind of scientist are you?” 

S: “I am a roboticist.” 

P: “Have you ever heard of a biologist?”

S: “Of course.”

P: “Well, go ask a biologist what they think about your idea of creating a humanoid robot. Each individual human is a community of cells, encased in an ever-changing environment that is teeming with bacteria. The notion that a human being is simply a machine is an absurd fantasy. You might as well try to build a machine that runs the entire economy. Or creates the weather each day. These are complex systems with chaotic behavior, feedback loops, and many other unpredictable features. Just like a human being.” 

S: “Well, I’m accustomed to nay-sayers. I’ll keep working on my robot. You’ll see.” 

P: “I’m all pins and needles. Call me when you’re done. Or, better yet, call me when you’ve figured out to what purpose humans were created. What exactly are humans for? Take your time.” 

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