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Nov 10, 2017

The Newest Citizen is a Robot

Humanity has entered a new era. Last week a robot was granted citizenship. This robot, called Sophia, is basically just an articulated head, but unlike anything we've seen before, she is beautiful (modeled after Audrey Hepburn), has flexible skin, and shows about 70 different expressions. You have to see her in action to appreciate how incredible she is. Yes, it's very cool! And it seem rather harmless to grant this pile of bolts citizenship, since we all know no toaster can threaten our civil rights. But there are dangers that have suddenly entered the room and the more we peel back those implications, the more we can see our own future at risk.

When a machine is given the same rights as a person, it both elevates the machine and demotes the human. I find it tragic that the nation that granted Sophia citizenship is Saudi Arabia. I wonder how the Saudi women feel about it since they are second-class citizens to begin with! If she could vote (which she can't because the nation is not a democracy) who is it whose desire is expressed, the machine or the programmer? This question can never be answered. God only knows! (In this case that's the programmer).

AI improves exponentially, whereas the human will only grow at evolutionary speed. Therefor humans are soon to be subsumed. It doesn't feel that way to us because of the obvious distance between the human and the cyborg. But that distance is rapidly dimminishing. There are stratified layers of dangers that will unfold beneath this one, but let me just highlight one: when the robot says she is "sentient", we have no way of knowing. In our slice of time we can be sure she is not, but a learning machine will cross that boundary before long. How will we know when if she's said that all along?

You now share the world with a mechanical citizen. Robots are fighting for "rights" like yours. Is that OK with you? When a machine takes your job in the next few years, how will you convince the world of your value when you become too expensive for employment? How do you feel being a human at this juncture?


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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.