Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Kara, the android who consciously comes alive

'Kara' is a short full-motion video created by game development studio Quantic Dream to showcase the capabilities of the Playstation 3. It portrays an android with the appearance of an innocent young woman being assembled while in the process, she comes alive and learns about herself. In the end, her programmer finds himself facing a fundamental dilemma.

Watch the video below:

It's one of the better videos to make clear the possibility that robots and human beings may become indistinguishable from each other, which invites some reflection. A situation such as portrayed in this video leaves us faced with two possible opposing stances towards robots: objectifying them as tools for purposes planned by the rational mind, or relating to them intersubjectively, with our full being, including our emotions. It becomes clear that when artificial life, robots being merely one form of it, starts relating to us in a rich enough way, we will probably not be able to treat them as objects any easier than we would treat other human beings as objects. The explicit memory of the other being being a 'thing' dissolves organically in the embodied interaction - in the end even the entire perception of otherness may completely disappear. It may become clear that rational decision-making itself requires a movement of shutting off deeper feelings; that the rational stance is one imbued with value and feeling as well, even though it seems not to be since we're programmed to subconsciously feel that it's the right thing to do.

If you think the fundamental dichotomy between subjectivity and objectivity through, you may come to the conclusion that any difference can only be in our perception. It's as the Buddhists say, there is no intrinsic reality behind the reality we experience, it is all complete in its suchness. In the end, it may simply turn out to be pointless to contemplate any fundamental difference between organic and technological life. The development of robots that seem to be alive will just turn out to be another step in the evolutionary process where humanity's own creations humbles them a little bit further.

It may turn out to be the final step. They show that any sense of life in ourselves is simply a projection or a quality of experience, but not intrinsically there. It's this big confrontation that what was just before just a thing now seems completely alive just as you always thought you were alive, while nothing intrinsically happened to the thing to give it life. It just started moving and relating convincingly enough and at some point it's like 'my god, it's alive' and there's no more denying it. Such technology will show people dynamically what the ancient wisdom teachings such as Advaita Vedanta have been saying for over 5.000 years: there is no separate doer, no agent, no 'you', inside the body-mind complex that you seem to be embodied inside. It is all just acting on its own, completely autonomously, and the sense that you are doing anything is all an illusion, contrived by the mind after-the-fact like an ingenious little trick. What people think they are was all just a robot all along. This humbling message or realization may trigger a lot of resistance and negativity in people at first, but we have to trust that it will prove to be something very positive in the end.

At the least this video makes clear that there's no stopping robots from coming onto this earth. It will just take a long while, since you can't just program this deep social and emotional intelligence into machines - it requires an organic embodiment, with a very complex system of emotional energy-regulation such as we humans have. I feel that it's something to very much look forward to.

Also check out the 'making of' video showing the acting, motion capture, and animation done to create the piece:

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