You have to wonder if new robots reading our emotions officially means they’re truly self-aware, or if they’re just trained to pick up on nuances in our faces that may not be comprehensive. When news came out that a new robot was invented to read our emotions and respond based on those emotions, you probably saw a million corporate CEOs salivating at the possibilities in customer service departments. With many companies obsessing over customer service in recent years as if a life essential, you have to wonder if robots will eventually fill that niche. The question is whether emotions in people are really all that easy to read without the robot literally reading our minds.
As usual, this advancement in robotics came from Japan where it’s expected to be used in stores there very soon. If you hate it when we give names to robots, you may hate this one even more being called “Pepper.” Regardless, with a price reportedly below $2,000, you have to see it being used in American stores before long. With its ability to read hand gestures, expressions, and detect the tone of our voices, it seems to give the indication that we’re overly demonstrative when we show emotions in public.
But are we going to find out that we keep most of our real feelings inside when we’re in stores? Not everybody is going to express the classic expressions those programming robots thinks we’re going to have. “2001: A Space Odyssey” once proved it’s going to take a more superior robotic intelligence to gather exactly what we’re thinking and act on it accurately.
The “2001” Effect on Emotions
One of the most memorable scenes in “2001: A Space Odyssey” that doesn’t get referenced enough is the scene where HAL 9000 reads the lips of Dave and Poole inside a soundproof capsule. To this day, you still have fans of the movie wondering what the astronauts say that might have set HAL 9000 off. Most likely, it’s HAL realizing the astronauts are aware of HAL slowly going mad and discussing shutting him down. But it’s also an early look at what we’re trying to achieve now in artificial intelligence reading emotions of their human counterparts.
Ironically, the astronauts in “2001” couldn’t be more emotionless, at least when interacting with HAL. You could even argue that perhaps HAL misread some of the emotions of the astronauts and took a different tactic based on this misreading.
It’s a scenario that could happen in real life once artificial intelligence goes to HAL level. Pepper the robot above isn’t anywhere near the level of HAL artificial intelligence, which also makes robotic emotion reading in general seem rushed. Even more so, I know various people who don’t express themselves histrionically, much like Dave and Poole in “2001.” What happens if Pepper the robot misreads someone to a point of going mad?
Misreading People with Blank Faces
If you’ve ever encountered individuals who never seem to show a shred of emotion in very many situations, you know how much of a challenge a robot might have in reading them. Unless they can pick up eye blink subtleties, what kind of reaction would Pepper the robot have if it gets confused with reading someone’s emotions? With the assumption he’s somewhat self-aware, would he go mad and do something crazy as a reaction of misreading? Most likely, the robot would just offer a service alternative not lining up with what the customer really wants.
Artificial intelligence confusion, though, is still an untested category and whether they’d act out when confounded or stay rational. Hopefully we’ve programmed artificial intelligence to just admit to being confused as much as a human being would. Once we program AI to always expect itself to be perfect will it feel threatened and perhaps end up doing something within the realms of HAL 9000. If so, it might not be very easy to just pull a plug and force them to sing “Daisy.”