Instilling emotions into computers is the next leap in our centuries-old obsession with creating machines that replicate humans. But for every benefit this progress may bring to our lives, there is a possible pitfall. Emotion recognition could lead to advanced surveillance, and the same technology that can manipulate our feelings could become a method of mass control. And, as shown in movies like Her and Ex Machina, our society already holds a deep-seated anxiety about what might happen if machines could actually feel and break free from our control. Heart of the Machine is an exploration of the new and inevitable ways in which mankind and technology will interact.
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THE DAWN OF EMOTIONAL MACHINES
Menlo Park, California — March 3, 2032 7:06 am
It's a damp spring morning as Abigail is gently roused from slumber by Mandy, her personal digital assistant. Sensors in the bed inform Mandy exactly where Abigail is in her sleep cycle, allowing it to coordinate with her work schedule and wake her at the optimum time. Given the morning's gray skies and Abigail's less-than-cheery mood when she went to bed the night before, Mandy opts to waken her with a recorded dawn chorus of sparrows and goldfinches.
Abigail stretches and sits up on the edge of the bed, feeling for her slippers with her feet. "Mmm, morning already?" she mutters.
"You slept seven hours and nineteen minutes with minimal interruption," Mandy informs her with a pleasant, algorithmically defined lilt via the room's concealed speaker system. "How are you feeling this morning?"
"Good," Abigail replies blinking. "Great, actually."
It's a pleasantry. Mandy didn't really need to ask or to hear its owner's response. The digital assistant had already analyzed Abigail's posture, energy levels, expression, and vocal tone using its many remote sensors, assessing that her mood is much improved from the prior evening.
It's a routine morning for the young woman and her technology. The two have been together for a long time. Many years before, when she was still a teen, Abigail named her assistant Mandy. Of course, back then the software was also several versions less sophisticated than it is today, so in a sense they've grown up together. During that time, Mandy has become increasingly familiar with Abigail's work habits, behavioral patterns, moods, preferences, and various other idiosyncrasies. In many ways, it knows Abigail better than any person ever could.
Mandy proceeds to tell Abigail about the weather and traffic conditions, her morning work schedule, and a few of the more juicy items rising to the top of her social media stream as she gets ready for her day.
"Mandy," Abigail asks as she brushes her hair, "do you have everything organized for today's board meeting?"
The personal assistant has already anticipated the question and consulted Abigail's calendar and biometric historical data before making all the needed preparations for her meeting with her board of directors. As the CEO of AAT — Applied Affective Technologies — Abigail and her company are at the forefront of human-machine relations. "Everyone's received their copies of the meeting agenda. Your notes and 3D presentation are finalized. Jeremy has the breakfast catering covered. And I picked out your clothes for the day: the Nina Ricci set."
"Didn't I wear that recently?"
Mandy responds without hesitation. "My records show you last wore it over two months ago for a similarly important meeting. It made you feel confident and empowered, and none of today's attendees has seen it on you before."
"Perfect!" Abigail beams. "Mandy, what would I do without you?"
* * *
Though this scenario may sound like something from a science fiction novel, in fact it's a relatively reasonable extrapolation of where technology could be fifteen years from now. Already, voice recognition and synthesis, the real-time measurement of personal biometrics, and artificially intelligent scheduling systems are becoming an increasing part of our daily lives. Given continuing improvements in computing power, as well as advances in other relevant technologies, in a mere decade these tools will be far more advanced than they are today.
However, the truly transformational changes described here will come from a branch of computer science that is still very much in its nascent stages, still early enough that many people have yet to even hear about it. It's called affective computing, and it deals with the development of systems and devices that interact with our feelings. More specifically, affective computing involves the recognition, interpretation, replication, and potentially the manipulation of human emotions by computers and social robots.
This rapidly developing field has the potential to radically change the way we interact with our computers and other devices. Increasingly, systems and controls will be able to alter their operations and behavior according to our emotional responses and other nonverbal cues. By doing this, our technology will become increasingly intuitive to use, addressing not only our explicit commands but our unspoken needs as well. In the pages that follow, we will explore just what this new era could mean for our technologies and for ourselves.
We are all emotional machines. Centuries of research into anatomy, biology, neurology, and numerous other fields has consistently revealed that nearly all of what we are follows a predictable set of physical processes. These mechanistically driven rules make it possible for us to move, to eat, to grow, to procreate. Within an extremely small range of genetic variation, we are all essentially copies of those who came before us, destined to produce generation after generation of nearly identical cookie-cutter reproductions of ourselves well into the future.
Of course, we know this is far from the true reality of the human experience. Though these deterministic forces define us up to a point, we exist in far greater depth and dimension than can be explained by any mere set of stimuli and responses. This is foremost because we are emotional beings. That the dreams, hopes, fears, and desires of each and every one of us are so unique while remaining so universal is largely due to our emotional experience of the world. If this were not so, identical twins who grow up together would have all but identical personalities. Instead, they begin with certain shared genetically influenced traits and behaviors and over time diverge from there. While all humanity shares nearly identical biology, chemical processes, and modes of sensory input, it is our feelings, our emotional interpretations of and responses to the world we experience that makes all of us on this planet, all 107 billion people who have ever lived, truly unique from one another.
There are easily hundreds, if not thousands, of theories about emotions — what they are, why they exist, and how they came about — and there is no way for a book such as this to begin to introduce or address them all. Nor does this book claim to know which, if any, of these is the One True Theory — in part because, in all likelihood, there is none. It's been said repeatedly by neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers that there are nearly as many theories of emotion as there are theorists. Emotion is an incredibly complex aspect of the human condition and mind, second only perhaps to the mystery of consciousness itself. What is important is to recognize its depth and complexity without attempting to oversimplify either its mechanisms or purpose.
Emotions are one of the most fundamental components of the human experience. Yet, as central as they are to our lives, we continue to find it a challenge to define or even to account for them. In many respects, we seem to have our greatest insights about feelings and emotions in their absence or when they go awry. Despite the many theories that exist, all we know with certainty is that they are essential in making us who we are, and that without them we would be but pale imitations of ourselves.
So what might this mean as we enter an era in which our machines — our computers, robots, and other devices — become increasingly capable of interacting with our emotions? How will it change our relationship with our technologies and with each other? How will it alter technology itself? Perhaps most importantly, if emotion has evolved in humans and certain other animals because it affords us some benefit, might it convey a similar benefit in the future development of artificial intelligence?
For reasons that will be explored in the coming chapters, affective computing is a very natural progression in our ongoing efforts to build technologies that operate increasingly on human terms, rather than the other way around. As a result, this branch of artificial intelligence will come to be incorporated to one degree or another nearly everywhere in our lives. At the same time, just like almost every other form of artificial intelligence that has been developed and commercialized, affective computing will eventually fade into the scenery, an overlooked, underappreciated feature that we will quickly take all too much for granted because it will be ubiquitous.
Consider the possibilities. Rooms that alter lighting and music based on your mood. Toys that engage young minds with natural emotional responses. Computer programs that notice your frustration over a task and alter their manner of assistance. Email that makes you pause before sending that overly inflammatory message. The scenarios are virtually endless.
But it's a rare technology that doesn't have unintended consequences or that is used exclusively as its inventors anticipated. Affective computing will be no different. It doesn't take a huge leap of foresight to anticipate that this technology will also inevitably be applied and abused in ways that clearly aren't a benefit to the majority of society. As this book will explore, like so many other technologies, affective computing will come to be seen as a double-edged sword — one that is capable of working for us while also having the capacity to do us considerable harm.
Amidst all of this radical progress, there is yet another story to be told. In many respects, affective computing represents a milestone in the long evolution of technology and our relationship to it. It's a story millions of years in the making and one that may be approaching a critical juncture, one that could well determine not only the future of technology, but of the human race.
But first, let's examine a question that is no doubt on many people's minds: "Why would anyone want to do this? Why design devices that understand our feelings?" As we'll see in the next chapter, it's a very natural, perhaps even inevitable step on a journey that began over three million years ago.CHAPTER 2
HOW EMOTION BOOTSTRAPPED THE FIRST TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION
Gona, Afar, Ethiopia — 3.39 million years ago
In a verdant gorge, a tiny hirsute figure squats over a small pile of stones. Cupping one of these — a modest piece of chert — in her curled hand, she repeatedly hits the side of it with a second rock, a rounded piece of granite. Every few strikes, a flake flies from the chert, leaving behind it a concave depression. As the young woman works the stone, the previously amorphous mineral slowly takes shape, acquiring a sharp edge as the result of the laborious process.
The work is half ritual, half legacy, a skill handed down from parent to child for untold generations. The end product, a small cutting tool, is capable of being firmly grasped and used to scrape meat from bones, ensuring that critical, life-sustaining morsels of food do not go to waste.
Here in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, our Paleolithic ancestor is engaged in one of humanity's very earliest technologies. While her exact species remains unknown to us, she is certainly a bipedal hominid that preceded Homo habilis, the species long renowned in our text books as "handy man, the tool maker." Perhaps she is Kenyanthropus platyops or the slightly larger Australopithecus afarensis. She is small by our standards: about three and a half feet tall and relatively slender. Her brain case is also meager compared with our own, averaging around 400 cubic centimeters, less than a third of our 1,350 cubic centimeters. But then that's hardly a fair comparison. When judged against earlier branches of our family tree, this hominid — this early human — is a mental giant. She puts that prowess to good use, fashioning tools that set her species apart from all that have come before.
* * *
While these stone tools might seem simple from today's perspective, at the time they were a tremendous leap forward, improving our ancestors' ability to obtain nutrition and to protect themselves from competitors and predators. These tools allowed them to slay beasts far more powerful than themselves and to scrape meat from bones. In turn, this altered their diet, providing much more regular access to the proteins and fats that would in time support further brain development.
Making these tools required a knowledge and skill that combined our ancestors' considerably greater brain power with the manual dexterity granted by their opposable thumbs. But perhaps most important of all was developing the ability to communicate the knowledge of stone tool making — knapping, as it's now known — which allowed this technology to be passed down from generation to generation. This is all the more amazing because these hominids didn't rely on verbal language so much as on emotion, expressiveness, and other forms of nonverbal communication.
Many cognitive and evolutionary factors needed to come together to make the development and transmission of this knowledge possible. The techniques of knapping were not simple or easy to learn, yet they were essential to our survival and eventual growth as a species. As a result, those traits that promoted its continuation and development would have been selected for, whether genetic or behavioral.
This represents something quite incredible in our history, because this is the moment when we truly became a technological species. This is when humanity and technology first set forth on their long journey together. As we will see, emotion was there from the very beginning, making all of it possible. The coevolution that followed allowed each of us to grow in ways we never could have without the aid of the other.
It's easy to dismiss tools and machines as "dumb" matter, but of course this is from the perspective of human intelligence. After all, we did have a billion-year head start, beginning from simple single-cell life. But over time, technology has become increasingly intelligent and capable until today, when it can actually best us on a number of fronts. Additionally, it's done this in a relative eye-blink of time, because as we'll discuss later, technology progresses exponentially relative to our own linear evolution.
Which brings us back to an important question: Was knapping really technology? Absolutely. There should be no doubt that the ability to forge these stone tools was the cutting-edge technology of its day. (A bad pun, but certainly an apt one.) Knapping was incredibly useful, so useful it was carried on for over three million years. After all, these hominids' lives had literally come to depend on it. During this time, change and improvement of the techniques used to form the tools was ponderously slow, at least in part because experimentation would have been deemed very costly, if not outright wasteful. Local supplies of chert — a fine-grained sedimentary rock — were limited. Analysis of human settlements and the local fossil record show that the supply of chert was exhausted several times in different regions of Africa and in several cases presumably had to be carried in from areas where it was more plentiful.
Based on fossil records, it took more than a million years — perhaps seventy thousand generations — to go from simple single edges to beautifully flaked tools with as many as a hundred facets. But while advancement of this technology was slow, one truly crucial factor was the ability to share and transmit the process. Knapping didn't die out with the passing of a singular exemplary mind or Paleolithic genius of its era. Because this technology was so successful, because it gave its users a competitive edge, this knowledge was meticulously passed down through the generations, allowing it to slowly morph into ever more complex forms and applications.
The image of our hominid ancestors shaping stone tools has been with us for decades. Beginning in the 1930s, Louis and Mary Leakey excavated thousands of stone tools and flakes at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, leading to these being dubbed Oldowan tools, a term now generally used to reference the oldest style of flaked stone. These tools were later estimated to be around 1.7 million years old and were likely made by Paranthropus boisei or perhaps Homo habilis.
However, more recent findings have pushed the date of our oldest tool-using ancestors back considerably further. In the early 1990s, another Paleolithic settlement north of Olduvai along East Africa's Great Rift Valley turned out to have even older stone tools and fragments. In 1992 and 1993, Rutgers University paleoanthropologists digging in the Afar region of Ethiopia excavated 2,600 sharp-edged flakes and flake fragments. Using radiometric dating and magnetostratigraphy, researchers dated the fragments to having been made more than 2.6 million years ago, making them remnants of the oldest known tools ever produced.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Heart of the Machine"
Copyright © 2017 Richard Yonck.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Rana el Kaliouby, PhD vii
Preface to the Paperback Edition xi
A Futurist View xix
Part 1 The Road to Affective Computing
1 The Dawn of Emotional Machines 3
2 How Emotion Bootstrapped the First Technological Revolution 9
3 Building the Future 32
4 Tell Us How You Feel 49
5 Launching the Emotion Economy 63
6 Kismet and the Robots 78
Part 2 The Rise of Emotional Machines
7 The Uncanny Valley of the Dolls 95
8 Learning Affectively 108
9 Marching into a Minefield 122
10 Sentimental Fools 136
11 Who Will Really Care? 148
12 Mixing It Up 161
Part 3 The Future of Artificial Emotional Intelligence
13 The Love Machines 179
14 AI in the Family 194
15 FeelGood, Inc. 209
16 Window in the Dark: AIs in Fiction 225
17 For Better and For Worse 240
18 Will AIs Dream of Electric Sheep? 260