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Friday, February 27, 2015

En Iniya Iyanthira - Jeeno - robot dogs .... artificial intelligence

The Rajnikanth starrer ‘Enthiran’ kept the audience glued to its storyline – all credit to Sujatha, the great writer and the director Shankar.  Dr Vaseegaran, a scientist working on alternative intelligence develops a humanoid  robot  which gets rejected by sinister designs.  At one point of time, the robot ‘Chitti’ asks why he has not been provided with ‘emotion’.  Dr Vaseegaran reprogrammes it with human feelings and emotions so that it could  distinguish between right and wrong. However things go wrong when Chitti falls in love with Sana (Aishwarya).   The making of Chitti and developing its functions was well depicted – I felt saddened when Chitti is dismantled [rather asked to self-destruct] and dumped in Perungudi garbage !

That was relatively little when compared to the lumpen feeling reading the travails of the little Jeeno, in the most interesting Sci-fi of Sujatha -  ‘En Eniya Iyanthira ’  and Meendum Jeano – the story of robotic dog woven subtly around a dictator who keeps the Nation under tight grip.   The pet robot dog which can think beyond humans, assists the dumb Nila in search of her spouse Sibi into bigger things.  Towards the end, the cute exceptionally dog loses it memory and back up and fades away ! Illogical it might sound, it was afterall a story – yet,  I felt very sad reading of its end. 

Emotional attachment is not uncommon, especially to pets.  Read that funerals are being held  in Japan for robotic dogs for, their owners believe they have souls.   Manufacturer of AIBI Sony discontinued product in 2006; but  kept 'clinics' open for the pets until last year for repairs – and the last of these are now closed leading some owners to stage funerals !!!

Incense smoke wafts through the cold air of the centuries-old Buddhist temple as a priest chants a sutra, praying for the peaceful transition of the souls of the departed. It is a funeral like any other in Japan. Except that those being honoured are robot dogs, lined up on the altar, each wearing a tag to show where they came from and which family they belonged to. The devices are 'AIBOs', the world's first home-use entertainment robot equipped with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and capable of developing its own personality.

Sony rolled out the first-generation AIBO in June 1999, with the initial batch of 3,000 selling out in just 20 minutes, despite the hefty 250,000 yen (more than $2,000) price tag. Over the following years, more than 150,000 units were sold, in numerous iterations, ranging from gleaning metallic-silver versions to round-faced cub-like models. The dog came with an array of sensors, a camera and microphone. The final generation could even talk. By 2006, Sony was in trouble; its business model was broken and it was facing fierce competition from rivals in all fields. The AIBO, an expensive and somewhat frivolous luxury, had to go. The company kept its 'AIBO Clinic' open until March 2014, but then -- politely -- told dedicated and loving owners that they were on their own.  Now comes the news of the funerals of such pet dogs !!!

Away, Google's Boston Dynamics released a video designed to show off a smaller, lighter version of its robotic dog, dubbed Spot. During the footage, employees are seen kicking Spot to prove how stable the machine is on its feet, but this has been dubbed 'cruel', 'wrong' and has raised concerns about ethics. 

Meantime, in a recent paper by Dr Anders Sandberg from the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, posed the question: 'In the future it's possible we will be able to create artificially human brains that emulate a real human - but what are the ethicalities and moralities of doing this?.' In particular, in his 'Ethics of brain emulations' research, Dr Sandberg considers a future in which AI may be commonplace in so-called 'lesser beings'. If brain emulation becomes possible we could in theory clone animals to create, for example, virtual laboratory rats. There is much opposition to performing scientific experiments on rats and other animals in the modern day - but Dr Sandberg questions whether people will have similar objections to experimenting on an animal that was artificially created.  If an emulation was run for just a millisecond of time before being deactivated, some might argue that this would constitute a 'murder' of sorts, destroying a life as it had been created. 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
27th Feb 2015.
PS : Incidentally, the great writer Sujatha [Srirangam Rangarajan] passed away this day in 2008.

Inputs on ‘robot funeral’ acknowledged –

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