Creating Loving Robots.
Last week, I returned from performing an experiment in Hong Kong that seems to have blown away all my professional skepticism about whether robots can evoke love in humans.
Love in itself — specifically, experiencing the power of unconditional love — has become a priority in the last year, ever since some donors approached me with seed funding to create a series of projects devoted to the power of unconditional love. Unconditional love is such a simple idea — loving without strings attached — and yet it feels out of reach for most of us. Unless you’re a parent, your child has just been born, and they have done nothing wrong yet. Or you’re a pet owner and your pet hasn’t needed much from you lately. Other than those few examples that spring to most of our minds, none of us are exactly living in a lush rainforest of unconditional love.
That was the reasoning that motivated the LOVING AI project— if humans aren’t so great at feeling unconditional love, what if AI could help us have the experience of being unconditionally loved? At the very least, given how AI has great potential for both good and ill, wouldn’t it be powerful to use love to steer an application toward good? So our team (including California-based IONS, Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics/MindCloud, OpenCog, and several remarkable volunteers) embedded AI dialogues and accompanying logic with the goal of helping people feel loved (here’s some background on this “LOVING AI” project).
Though I was convinced the intentions of the funders were good, as were the intentions of our team, I wasn’t at all convinced we could pull this thing off. Probably not in any way that made people feel something real. For sure not in a year. And absolutely not for the tiny amount of seed funding we had received. There was almost no part of me that thought this could really work, yet every part of me wanted it to.
Last week in Hong Kong, we put our efforts to the test with Hanson Robotics’ Sophia robot with embedded AI. We asked students at Hong Kong Polytechnic and workers at Science Park to consider having a talk with a robot for 15 minutes (for no pay) — plus they had to wear a heart monitoring chest strap and answer questions on a questionnaire. Surprisingly, this proposal was appealing to some, so we found enough participants to do a decent pilot test. This is what we found (see a more scientific writeup here):