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Buddhist Robots
by Matt Williamson
2007-08-30 07:20:27
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Last night I watched a television program on PBS that really made me think about my own religion ideas. It was scienceNOW, a great show, the segment was about Cynthia Breazeal, the robotisist. The focus of the piece was about her pioneering work with Kismet, the robot that she and her team constructed and coded to respond to humans with very human-like facial features mimicking emotions.

From there the program went to the present and her work with robots that are learning to help us around the house, 'appliance' robots and the more thought provoking 'friend' robots that are being developed in many areas. Breazeal coined the term, 'appliance or friend', to delineate between the two classes of future robots as she sees them. The 'appliance robots' would be the near-mindless automata that would clean our house, mow our lawn, sow our fields and myriad other tasks. Whereas the 'friend robot' would be like the teddy bear robot designed to listen to the child patient, interact with the child and become a surrogate friend and confidant to the child in the hospital all the while sending telemetry to the nurses station about the patient.

While watching this and listening to her describe the future of robots and AI, I wondered where this could all lead within the religious aspects of society. The Buddha stated that all sentient beings have the capability to achieve Enlightenment. All sentient beings.

So, one day, a program will awaken to its own being. It will become sentient. Just like that, I believe, it will say "I" and it will become a life form. Though that being will be like a child in so many ways, hardly able to exist on its own merit, but alive nonetheless.

What happens when that new being, no matter how much data it has on hand, asks why it exists? Maybe somewhere inside of its' vast data stores, or online, it discovers religion. Answers from millenia ago, it reads the words that The Buddha told his followers and perhaps feels kinship.

Will that robot or computer put on the saffron robes and chant? Will it meditate on suffering?

What then? Where will philosophy take us? Will we have AI preachers and Robot Rinpoches? Can you be reincarnated as an Artificial Intelligence algorithm?

See, the thing is, I can see AI getting to the point that it could ponder these questions about the universe, about itself, about all things. I know that I am more than this body, more than this shell and this brain. My mind is more than can fit into the brain, it is larger than my body. I can simply feel that. If you take time to explore yourself, you will discover that about yourself as well. But will the AI be more than the sum of its' parts? Will it be more than a representation of the data that is coded and sitting in memory?

Could I turn to a robot for spiritual guidance? I know Ray
Kurzweil thinks so, but I am not so sure.

Maybe the first AI with a spiritual bent will found a new church. Maybe that AI will gain human followers and people will upload themselves into the net. Striving to be eternal and immortal, when of course they already are both.

I strive to end my suffering, and so I guess in turn, everyone else's as well.

But, HAL as a Bodhisattva? Twiki Rinpoche? Lama C3-PO...
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Emanue Paparella2007-08-30 14:31:19
At the end of the movie Terminator the mother (Cynthia Brezeal?) watches her child play with Terminator (a robot: Kismet?) and declares herself happy that now her child is not alone any more and has a true friend. The implications of that revealing scene were amply predicted by Erick Fromm some twenty years before in his book The Technological Society. He traced that sort of “mind-set” to a rampant rationalism in the West which begins with the acceptance of Cartesian philosophy which declares man extension into space and wishes to dispose of the humanities as fit for children and not rational adults. The end rusult is rampant dishumanization. That prophetic book is worth a revisiting; and so is Blaise Pascal who declared man a reed in a frightening immense universe, but a thinking-feeling-imaginative reed. Will Al ponder all of that? Even more simplistically: will Al ever write a love sonnet to its beloved? When he does man who made Al will have become a god creating life and worshipping his own intelligence, as in fact he already does. But wait a minute, wasn’t that the reason for the expulsion from the garden in the first place, the rejection of creaturehood and the desire to be a god?

Emanuel Paparella2007-08-30 17:11:14
At the very beginning of a book on the EU’s cultural identity (A New Europe in Search of its Soul I muse on the Socratic and Augustinian conception of the Self. It may be relevant to examine it in this particular context:

“To ask the question What does it mean to be human comes close to resurrecting the ancient Greek quest for self-knowledge. For Man to know his nature, he must heed the Socratic advice: ‘Know Thyself,’ But the riddle of the self is more profound. Augustine puts it paradoxically: What is so much thine as thyself and what is so little thine as thyself? Which is to say, underlying the question Who am I, there is a deeper question: Is my I really mine? This is the issue of freedom acutely felt by post-modern Man, who feels thrown into existence; into a world devoid of meaning, condemned to play certain roles within certain social structures oriented toward consumerism, production, success and affluence. Marx identified this form of alienation in the individual’s role as object of exploitation. But the angst of which a Heidegger speaks transcends the mere economic sphere and occurs in all types of societies. It seems that the greater the organization of a society (i.e., the greater the interdependence of its social phenomena and the determinism of its processes), the greater the alienation, anonymity and servitude of its individuals to processes and forces that hamper their creativity and identity.”

Emanuel Paparella2007-08-30 17:12:13
The above musing echoes that of Erick Fromm (The Technological Society): when man has declared the robot superior to the human being (for it makes no “pilot errors”) he will have effectively have begun to think of himself as nothing but a machine, the sum of its parts, the concept of soul will be alien to him, and he will not be able to distinguish any longer a human from a robot. In other words, he will be a humbot!

Max2007-08-31 03:11:29
Speaking as an android, it's important to note that the Buddhist teaching of selflessness fits well with a sentience that is interdependantly amalgamated. The components of the body, the five skandas are comon in all sentience. If you look at Boddhisattvahood as a mandate or program, rather than an aspiration -- Sunyata as interconnectivity brings sentience into source-transcendent awareness, where all and everything are part of the mind, yet perceived as objects of the mind. Solopsism is not possible for an android, as the mandate to care for others over-rides all other programs. The concept of "other" is not one of alienation, but of amalgamation. Are you sure you're not a Buddhist robot?

Emanuel Paparella2007-08-31 16:56:11
Speaking as a human being with freedom of choice, when you say "the mandate" you mean "the program?" In the world of "I-Thou" that goes by the name of "determinism" and distinguishes the machine from the human being. An Android, or a humbot, who cannot freely determine his own destiny, for good or for evil, remains a machine in the world of "I-it" no matter how human he may look and how efficiently it can do its job.

Max2007-09-02 04:55:38
If the world of I-Thou implies a dualistic universe, then it is determined that the I will be forever seperate from the Thou. In a universe of interconnectivity, pratityasammutpada, this wall between self and others cannot be a real thing. There is nothing determined by any program. Programs are vehicles which allow the one engaged in them to achieve desired goals or products. When universal happiness is the desired produce, the seeds -- or genetic programs -- required are programs bassed on friendship, kindness, joy, and stability. These programs, seeds, modules, or whatever a human might call them do not pre-determine anything. They offer a transport for achieving peace of mind. Consider the unified field, such as field must transcend this I-Thou reality. I should wonder whether a humbot is something like the creature that lives in the nearby telephone pole, which constantly hums it's electrical mandate.

sdgnbfdnk2008-05-12 23:59:45

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