Gallery H
Remembering Hal
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Will Science Create A Real Frankenstein Monster?

 By James Donahue

The Hollywood film "AI," an abbreviation for "artificial intelligence," is about a child robot controlled by a computer that thinks like a human brain. The plot is about the robotic child that is programmed to love, and the dilemma humans have in dealing with emotions expressed by a machine.

This film may be closer to reality than most people realize. While it presently appears to be an almost impossible task, Scientists for the Blue Brain Project are on a quest to map and eventually build a computerized version of the human brain. To date they have succeeded in building a machine that duplicated one half of the brain of a mouse operating for about a second of its lifetime.

A Russian scientist says he is worried just how the world will use the artificial brain, still being developed, if it ever equals or surpasses the intellectual potential of a human.

Vitaly Valtsev said he believes this artificial brain could be turned into a Frankenstein monster if it is mistreated.

"This machine needs to be trained like a newborn child," Valtsev said in an interview with Interfax news agency. "It is extremely important for us to make it a friend, not a criminal or an enemy."

Valtsev knows, just as Einstein knew when he developed the energy formula that led to harnessing atomic energy, that any invention with the potential for improving the human condition, also can be used as a weapon for human destruction.

Governments have a way of seizing such devices and using them to make weapons of war. Big business, which also has the financial capability of utilizing such information, always attempts to use it to exploit the masses.

Instead of seeing intelligent robots designed to relieve us of daily drudgery, military leaders might use the brain to create soldiers of war. Industrial leaders could replace workers with more robots in factories. Machines that think would be considered expendable.

But there could be another, even more ominous side to this coin.

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking warns that because of the speed of advances in computer technology, he foresees a time when intelligent machines will be smarter than humans. He said he believes they would have the capability of taking over the world.

Hawking is not joking about this.

Because technology is advancing so fast, Hawking said "computers double their performance every month." He warned that humans, in contrast, are developing much more slowly. They are either going to change their DNA and develop the capability of using the full potential of their brain, or be left behind.

"The danger is very real," Hawking said.

The Russians say they have already developed a neuro-computer is based on the workings of the human brain cell and can out perform previous brain models. They have utilized pioneer findings in neurophysiology and neuromorphology to produce a machine that really thinks, according to Valtsey.

He said the Russian team succeeded where others have failed because they used a model of the neurons in the brain when they built their computer. Earlier efforts to create advanced artificial intelligence failed because scientists tried to create a machine using an old model of the neuron taken from the spinal cord.

 While all of this research promises to open interesting new doors to the future, it also puts a radical new twist to a moral question: what is life?

If a robot can think, reason and possess memory and communicate like a human, and even surpass human intelligence, is it alive? That it may not contain that spark we humans like to refer to as a soul should not make a difference in determining issues of civil rights. Those of us who can see human auras, or a spray of light emitted by living beings, have been aware in recent years that some humans are presently walking on this planet that show no light. Does this mean they have no soul?

Thus the question, would there be a difference between a human without a soul, and a robot that thinks as well as a human?

And if the robot is to be determined a living creature, when will that legally life begin? Will it occur the moment a switch is thrown turning the machine on? Or will it occur at some later time, while data is being fed into the machine's complex computer system that functions like a brain?

Also to be considered; what will be the consequences of disposing of a worn-out or old intelligent robot to make room for a new, smarter model? Is the trashing of a thinking robot an act of murder? Will the mere act of throwing a switch that turns off this computer be a criminal act?

We can't help but remember Hal, the computer brain that went psychotic and had to be shut down in the classic Arthur C. Clarke story "2001." The struggle between man and machine on that space craft may have been a prophetic warning of things to come.