Artificial Intelligence and Humans: What Will Our Common Future Look Like?

Current television series such as Humans and Westworld paint a rather disturbing picture of our coexistence with highly developed robots. They show that humans have a tendency to mistreat and abuse anthropomorphic robots if they do not have any rights. At the moment it's still a fiction, but can we assume that our society would treat robots with respect if things ever got that far? can ai and humans coexist ?

can ai and humans coexist

By 2030 ... 

800 million people are projected to lose their jobs due to automation 

be 14% of the global workforce must change their profession

( Source: McKinsey Global Institute )

Self-service checkouts and intelligent turnstiles are replacing human cashiers. Picking robots replace human warehouse workers. Even fast-food cooks are being replaced by robots roasting burgers . So in case you haven't heard, robots do our jobs. And that naturally triggers great fears.

According to a recent survey by the Eurobarometer , 74% of all EU citizens fear that robots and AI will destroy more jobs than create new ones. In the United States too, more people are concerned than excited about robots taking over the jobs of human workers. In a study by the Pew Research Center , only 33% of people were excited about this prospect.

And although many experts predict the opposite - according to Gartner , more new jobs will be created through AI than will be lost - that does not change the fact that many people are worried about the future.

Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk are among those warning of the rise in AI. They have deep concerns about a not too distant future in which robots could become dominant and threaten our very existence as humans.

Nevertheless, it can be assumed that the market will grow dramatically. Accenture has researched the impact of AI in 12 developed countries and predicts that AI will lead to a 40 percent increase in labor productivity and a doubling of annual growth rates by 2035.

That's because the potential benefits of AI are enormous. AI can support decision-making processes, increase the efficiency of operational processes, accelerate supply chains and, ultimately, fundamentally change the way we think about work .

According to a recent McKinsey report, A Future That Works , automation could:

increase global productivity growth by 0.8 to 1.4% per year,

help to counter the demographic trend towards aging in industrialized and developing countries,

improve economic performance through higher profits, productivity, safety and quality.

However, in order for us to actually take advantage of the potential benefits of AI, we must first address the existing problems related to the technology. And it is particularly about the role that robots play in our society.

Can robots ever be our equal?

A frustrated employee kicks a copier with a paper jam. An angry customer yells at a self-service checkout that doesn't respond. A toddler throws an iPad on the floor. In these scenarios we see no reason to feel sorry for the inanimate objects. After all, they are just lifeless machines.

But what if the machines had human-looking properties? Would we attack or insult them anyway, or would we treat them differently? As robots evolve from inanimate objects to intelligent machines, difficult questions arise about how we deal with them.

Our conflicting feelings about robots

Studies have found that we are more likely to feel empathy towards robots when they display human characteristics.

However, if robots look too realistic, our emphatic feelings disappear. Instead, we feel uncomfortable and disturbed. The phenomenon is known as the “uncanny valley” or “acceptance gap”.

However, there is more to the concept of the “Uncanny Valley”. Scientists have investigated how human perceptions would affect the acceptance of robots.

The study suggests that natural-looking behavior is okay with us when it comes from humans or when computers rely on a given script. However, when it is machines that behave naturally and seem to feel real emotions in the process, we feel uncomfortable.

Will robots develop emotions?

There are enough stories like The 200 Years of Man or Blade Runner, in which robots with AI have human emotions. These stories are so exciting for us because feelings are usually seen as the most important differentiator between humans and machines.

But even if scientists were able to replicate the brain chemistry that brings us joy, anger, sadness, or fear - should they?

Today robots operate rationally. You make decisions based on algorithms and logic. The advantage of this rationality is that it is predictable and controllable. Rational robots are very likely not to behave for which they were not programmed.

If robots could develop emotions, however, there would also be advantages. Care robots with emotions could, for example, make it easier for people to establish an emotional connection with the machines. If they had emotions, robots would also be better at addressing the emotional, social and mental wellbeing of people. Emotions could also influence the behavior of robots and possibly enable them to make ethical decisions.

The first question that arises here is: What makes people emotional? Our emotions are expressed through physical reactions. In situations where we are afraid, our heartbeat accelerates. When we are happy, our serotonin levels rise. Our emotions are culturally shaped and are just as strongly influenced by chemicals as by our personality.

Given that robots are made of metal and plastic, can they ever really be able to sense human emotions?

AI and humans

At what point should robots have their own rights? 

Explore consciousness

Perhaps the question is not at all whether robots can feel real emotions. Maybe it's more about whether they know they exist. At the very least, awareness is at the center of most of the arguments for robot rights. However, it is difficult to define what consciousness actually is.

In a review recently published in Science , the researchers posit that there are three main types of consciousness:




The first level is C0. It relates to unconscious processes that take place in the human brain, such as face or speech recognition. People are often not even aware that these processes are going on.

While this is just one possible definition of consciousness, the scientists hope that these categories can serve as guidance in the development of future AIs.

Robot rights: should they exist?

Even if the problem is not acute at the moment, it makes sense to start looking into the question: If robots develop awareness and can sense and process emotions at some point - should there also be something like human rights for machines?

Some countries already grant robots a certain degree of rights. In 2017, Saudi Arabia became the first country to host a robot named Sophia and was developed by Hanson Robotics who received citizenship. A few weeks later, in Japan, Mirai , a seven-year-old humanoid chatbot, was registered as an official resident of Shibuya.

Even if these examples are more like PR gags, they show a possible future development. Critics argue that Sophia has more rights than most women in Saudi Arabia. Others point to the long history of minority oppression in Japan's history and how unfair it is to place greater emphasis on robots. It also argues that the ongoing struggle for universal human rights should take priority over the rights of robots.

As with many questions about AI, opinions about the right path for the future also differ here. 

Joanna Bryson is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Computer Science at the University of Bath. She believes that robots should be viewed as "slaves". She argues that if we give robots rights, we put robots and humans on an equal footing, and that this would limit humanity's ability to realize its ambitions.

"Robots should be manufactured, marketed and legally regarded as slaves - not as equals."

- Joanna Bryson

Kate Darling , an expert on robot ethics and researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes that robots should be legally protected to prevent abuse - similar to animal welfare. For them it is just as much a question of protecting our own morality as it is of protecting machines.

“If we treat animals inhumanely, it makes us inhuman. Logically, this also applies to how we treat our robot companions. If we give them legal protection, that could reinforce behavior in us that we generally consider ethically correct, or at least behavior that makes our coexistence more pleasant. "

- Kate Darling

Philosophy professor Eric Schwitzgebel goes even further. He argues that we have an even greater moral obligation to robots than to humans because they are like our children.

“We will be their creators and designers. We are therefore directly responsible for their existence and for whether they are happy or unhappy. If a robot suffers unnecessarily or does not achieve its development potential, it is to a large extent our fault - because we made mistakes in construction, design or maintenance.

Our moral relationship with robots will be more like the relationship between parents and their children, or that of gods and the beings who created them, rather than relationships between strangers. "

- Eric Schwitzgebel

"Our moral relationship with robots will be more like the relationship between parents and their children, or that of gods with the beings who created them, rather than relationships between strangers."

—Eric Schwitzgebel

Robots and ethics

In order to find our position on robot rights, we need to further define our relationship with robots. Because even if we still own and control robots today, there will be a future in which humans work closely with robots, and in this future we may also interact with them socially, or perhaps even fall in love with them.

When we become clear about whether we are owners, parents, or equals of robots, it will help us decide how to deal with robots and whether we should protect their rights.

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