With time running out for Terri Schiavo, I hope I am not the only one offended by AP’s breezy comparison between Schiavo (a human being) and Kismet (a robot):
To understand the emotional reaction to the tapes of Terri Schiavo, one need only spend a few minutes with Kismet.
People who spend time with the robot at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology lab walk away feeling like they’ve made a new friend. Kismet is nothing but a mechanical head made out of metal and plastic, but it has been cleverly programmed by scientists to mimic human social interactions.
Sit down across from Kismet and it gives you a pleasant smile. Step too close and it jumps back with a startled expression on its face. Introduce yourself and it waits patiently for you to finish talking, then replies with a few syllables of speech that sounds like a higher-pitched version of the language spoken by the teachers in ‘Charlie Brown’ cartoons.
Kismet is no more conscious than a dishwasher or a microwave oven. But its vaguely human behavior has a powerful effect on brains that are predisposed to attach meaning to gesture, facial expression and vocal tone.
“This … system that we have is so automatic and so powerful, sometimes it ends up being triggered by things that aren’t people and don’t have minds at all,” said Martha J. Farah, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s very hard to suppress the impression that there’s somebody there.”
People in persistent vegetative states are no more aware than Kismet, but they retain a handful of primitive reflexes that are naturally misinterpreted as conscious behavior.
(Hat tip: Eddie.)blog comments powered by Disqus
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