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Jan 21, 2015

Can a Machine Without a Beating Heart Really Care?


I am fascinated and not a little alarmed by the debate on caring robots. Yes, we are soon facing a shortage of caretakers, especially for the elderly, and it would be helpful to call a Nannybot every so often. but I keep returning to one gnawing question that haunts the whole idea: how do you program a machine to "care"? I can understand how a machine can appear to "want" something, favoring a certain outcome over another. But to talk about a machine "caring" is ignoring a very crucial point about life: that as clever as intelligence is, it cannot create care. We tend to love our kid more than someone else's. So you could program a machine to prefer another in which it recognizes a piece of its own code. That may LOOK like care but it's really just an outcome. How could you replicate, for example, the love a parent shows for a kid they didn't produce? What if that kid were humanity? So too with the idea of programming not what we want, but what we really want! (This problem is called Coherent Extrapolated Volition). Sure you can keep refining the resolution of an outcome, but I don't see how any mechanism can actually care about anything but an outcome.


While "want" and "prefer"may be useful terms, such terms as "care", "desire", "value" constitute an enormous and dangerous anthropomorphizing. We cannot imagine outside our own frame, and this is one place where that gets us into real trouble. Even whole brain emulation (where scientists replicate the mechanics of the brain) assumes that both that our thoughts are nothing but code and a brain with or without a body is the same thing. Once someone creates a computer code that will recognize something truly metaphysical I would be convinced that a caring machine might be possible.


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Tim Holmes Studio

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I'm a sculptor/filmmaker living in Montana, USA. I am using art to move the evolution of humanity forward into an increasingly responsive, inclusive and interactive culture. As globalization flattens peoples into a capitalist monoculture I hope to use my art to celebrate historical cultural differences and imagine how we can co-create a rich future together.

I see myself as an artist/philosopher laboring deep in the mines of joy. I've had a good long career of exhibiting work around the world and working on international outreach projects, most notably being the first American to be invited to present a one-person exhibit in the Hermitage Museum. Recently I have turned my attention from simply making metal sculpture to creating films and workshops for engaging communities directly, tinkering with the very ideas and mechanisms behind cultural transformation. I feel that as we face tragic world crises, if the human species favors our imaginative and creative capacities we can cultivate a rich world to enjoy.

For me the deepest satisfaction in making art comes in engaging people's real life concerns rather than providing simple entertainment or decoration. Areas of conflict or tension are particularly ripe for the kind of transformative power that art uniquely carries. I invite any kind of challenge that serves people on a deep level.