Developments in the world of robotics and artificial intelligence are already starting to shape this year as the first Japanese robot prepares to become the first AI capable TV news anchor. ‘Erica’, was created by Hiroshi Ishiguro, the director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University. The robot resembles a young woman in her twenties and has been dubbed a 23-year-old apparently.
Erica’s Features and Functions
Her current functions involve the processing of sound from its source and from general interaction with others. She can track human movement as well within a limited space but her arms and legs are not functional. Erica has about 15 infrared sensors which enable her to track the movement of people within a room as well. She is also able to distinguish sounds from a conversation. Her creator claims this is due to an advanced speech synthesis system. Apparently, these advancements have allowed her to develop a personality.
Ishiguro claimed they intended to replace one of the news anchors with the robot in April. However, additional details have not yet been revealed about the new job of the AI in Erica. He does admit he first tried to get her on air four years ago. Erica is not exactly a reporter, of course, so she will not be involved in the collection of news but rather her AI will be used to read news stories which have already been prepared. Considering the limitations that she has as concerns movement, Erica is well suited for desk duty. She is allegedly capable of reciting scripts and sit in a chair, which would coincide with the teleprompter she would need when reading the news.
Debating Sentience and the Soul
However, Erica is not just a pretty face allegedly; Dr. Ishiguro claimed that she has a soul. Erica also considers herself, an actual being. She stated she thinks she is a person and human beings have a deep need to feel they have a special place in the universe. This is why they cannot accept similarity to machines or even animals. This brings into question the age-old question of whether sentience is exclusive to humans or if it can be manufactured. The advance of the robotic industry during the previous 5 years has made leaps to create machines which are closer than ever to their creators in terms of behavior, intelligence and far surpass them in productivity.
So it may be a matter of time before artificial intelligence develops a form of sentience which is unique. Dr. Ira Glass, her architect claimed Erica even has the ability to tell jokes. The discussions of sentience also consider the soul and the metaphysical.
Unfortunately, there is disconnection on the difference between being self-aware and having a soul. This is attributed to the lack of empirical studies on the metaphysical and how they relate to the human mind. That would imply just because Erica has the beginnings of self-awareness does not suggest that she also has a soul. As the unknown increasingly become mapped, these answers should become known in the coming years.