Sunday, September 29, 2013

Machines as Best Friends - 2

Fisher Price Rockin' Tunes Giraffe
In my previous post, Machines as Best Friends, I mentioned seeing advertisements for two toys that made me think about whether we are setting ourselves up to prefer machines as friends over real human friends. Of course, I'm not really worried about it but it is something to think about. Well, today, I saw the commercials again and realized I had many of my fact wrong. It wasn't a horse the the child was riding in one ad. It was a giraffe! How could I get that wrong? The picture of the Rockin' Tunes Giraffe is the first image in the upper right. I did get some things right. It makes pleasing sounds when the child does certain things. And when it rocks fast enough, the clopping sounds start. So, we can begin to train our future equestrians (or giraffe riders) to prefer the higher speed gaits of those animals.

Fisher Price Crawl Around Car
The other toy I was thinking about was a small car that the child can crawl around in . As you can see from the second picture, on the lower left, the part that tells the child they have selected the sunny day is showing.So, I was wrong about this one, too. I didn't remember it being a car. That is all after seeing both commercials that day. How many other things do I get wrong? Did the Red Sox really get into the play-offs this year?

As usual, I'm late to the party on this. There was a Twilight Zone episode ("I Sing the Body Electric") back in the 60's about a father who, upon his wife's death, goes out and purchases a robotic grandmother to take care of his three children. She never gets tired. She always encourages. She never dies and is always friendly. The episode didn't show them preferring the robot to other people but it is the robotic grandmother that the children spend most of their time with. And there is a sub-plot in the story about the oldest child being upset with her mother for dying. She's just a child and can't help being selfish. But when she finds that the robotic grandmother won't leave her like her mother did, you can see how happy she is. It's almost as if they are saying the robotic grandmother is better than the child's mother.

We need to concentrate on getting along with our fellow humans, first:

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Romans 12:17-18 NLT

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Machines as best friends

i-Cybie, robotic dog
I was watching an advertisement about some toys for babies at the age when they are just starting to crawl around and walk. The toys, one was a horse the child could ride and the other was a set of smaller toys combined into one set, respond to things that the children do. When certain buttons are hit, a message of encouragement is played. When certain other things are selected, they get a few words of explanation - like when a wheel is flipped over to a picture of a smiling Sun, the happy voice says, "It's a sunny day!" When the child rides the horse faster, clopping sounds like a horse trotting will play. It all sounds fun. I wonder what would happen if we took this to the extreme and older children started to be taught by machines. Would it get to the point where children (and later, as they grow up, adults) would prefer the company of machines because they react more reasonably? You don't have to worry about a machine having a bad day. And, probably, the machine wouldn't say anything bad about what you were doing. It would just always encourage you. Machines could be the perfect companion if they were complex enough.

I already see this happening in my own life. I turned on the Spelling Check for this blog entry and it gently told me which words were probably misspelled and what possible correct spelling might be. It didn't tell me I was stupid. No one had to know that I misspelled "advertisement" the first time (using a 'z' instead the 's'). Is this part of our problem with human relationships? Married folks bristle when their spouse disagrees with them. Workers react poorly when given a bad review by their boss.Friends fall out with friends when they don't agree about something. Have we all gotten a little too sensitive? Are we ready to replace our dogs with cyber dogs because we don't have to take them for walks and they don't need to be house broken? The picture above is from Wikipedia and the article about this particular machine friend is from this article at Wikipedia.

I'm an electronics engineer and I should be happy about all this. I will admit that I'm impressed with what the toy makers have been able to do to produce these things and keep the price reasonable. And their little toys are not going to turn these children into adults who cannot cope with the vagaries of human relationships. But it still worries me. I know people who prefer to text their friends instead of visiting them and having a discussion with. The friends might disagree with them. Better to go home and have a nice discussion with an android friend who will tell you that you're the smartest person they know. I hope and pray this isn't the way we are headed.