Episode notes

The Future is AI?

The definition of artificial intelligence is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.I was completely gob-smacked to recently read a business story that a robot called ‘Sophia’ has been granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia. (http://uk.businessinsider.com/sophia-robot-citizenship-in-saudi-arabia-the-first-of-its-kind-2017-10?r=US&IR=T). My amazement is, in part due, to the fact that Saudi Arabia has had an extraordinary record of what it will allow ‘real human’ females to do or not do. For example up until a very recent announcement, women were banned from driving amongst other things. They are now allowed to do so but does granting citizenship to an artificial intelligence, modelled on Audrey Hepburn and overtly feminine, demonstrate a country moving towards modernity ? .Moving on from that politicial discussion the decision also makes me question whether this is the first step towards a very ambiguous future generally for mankind.

Sophia's appearance is overtly feminine
Sophia’s appearance is overtly feminine

Why we are afraid of AI

There is certainly a palpable fear around robotics taking over our jobs, leaving us out of work and without a livelihood. In 2018 the government has plans to trial driverless lorries on British the motorways threatening the jobs of professional drivers. Up to three lorries are due to travel in automated convoys (controlled by a driver in the lead vehicle) despite worries that such a convey could obscure road signs from drivers in the outside lanes and potentially make access to entries or exits difficult for other drivers. In its favour it does have noble ambitions to cut congestion and emissions.  The world of Doctor Who certainly shows robotics in service to humanity. In “Paradise Towers” we  saw Cleaning Robots who were programmed to keep the Towers clean and in “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy” an advertising robot delivered  junk mail to advertise events, using the the TARDIS’ viewing screen to show the advertisement.

The personal sphere

However robots do seem to also be encroaching into more personal areas such as healthcare. In the The Androids of Tara we saw androids who looked like genuine humanoids who were built to replace workers lost to illness, with doctors trained to also act as scientists in order to repair them. The future is coming…….Well not quite duplicates ( yet) but a private company has just begun a pilot scheme which means patients in five boroughs of London  ( one of which is mine!) are encouraged to consult a chatbot instead of a human being, when they contact the 111 non-emergency line  (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2017/03/07/robots-will-soon-able-diagnose-accurately-almost-doctor/). The ultimate aim will be in the future to test if robots will be able to outperform medics in making a full diagnosis.  Of course being able to diagnose more swiftly may allow doctors to apply treatment quicker and at the moment the service is being marketed as an additional resource for doctors but in ‘The Girl Who Waited’ one can see where artificial intelligence in medicine has its limits.

The Handbots from The Girl Who Waited
The Handbots from The Girl Who Waited

The handbots, the medical personal on Apalapucia had organic skin, grafted on their hands, allowing them to “see” and even detect bacteria but had limited intelligence to know different species or what medicines cured them. A handbot tried to administer a dose of medicine that would have been fatal to Rory unable to recognise either him or the Doctor as alien. Older Amy cut off her handbot “Rory’s” anaesthetic hands, perhaps suggesting they always posed a threat.

Taking over

Another fear about robots is that they will “take us over”; that we’ll lose control of them. The idea of a robot society amongst us in the future is very well imagined in ‘ The Robots of Death’ where abroad ‘Storm Mine 4’, there is a minimal human crew that oversee the menial work done by the robots. Interestingly the robots are divided into three classes of intelligence : the D-class, colloquially known by the humans as the “Dum” which are incapable of speech and merely followed orders, , the “Voc” which interacts with the humans, and the SV-class, or ” Supervoc “that is capable of reason and decision-making and managing the other robots but  also utilised in detective work.

The Robots of Death are divided into three classes of intelligence : the D-class, the “Voc” and the SV-class, or” Supervoc ”
The Robots of Death are divided into three classes of intelligence : the D-class, the “Voc” and the SV-class, or” Supervoc ”

Leela describes them as ‘creepy mechanical men’ and I can well understand that. Leela is quite an astute savage at times! Even in the future the paranoia over robots still exists amongst the humans as at the start of the story as one crew member receives a massage from a robot and they all discuss a case of a Voc robot therapist in Kaldor City who ripped off a human client’s arm. Was it faulty programming? We don’t really know but the seeds for distrust are shown. Again, this fear has some present basis. The AI robot Sophie, has a remarkable level of behavioural intelligence built into her and the ability to acquire knowledge and skills.

Emotional Intelligence

‘ She’ is described by her creator Dr David Hanson as having ‘natural facial expressions’ and with cameras in her eyes and algorithms ‘is able to see faces and make eye contact, remember interactions’ and will hopefully in the future be ‘conscious’ and ‘creative’ (https://youtu.be/W0_DPi0PmF0 )

I want to go to school, study, make art, start my own business and hopefully even have my own home and family

It does trouble me listening to her as she quotes ‘human’ aspirations to in the future to study, work and have a family and apply them as necessary alongside her problem solving skills. She may help in the home but it nags at me there is this desire to give her emotional intelligence too. Obviously no one watched Swedish science fiction drama Real Humans or the Channel 4 Humans which posed those scenarios shown leading to a robot Revolution ? Does Sophia know why she wants these things ?

The different faces of ' Sophia'
The different faces of ‘ Sophia’

What was interesting was where Dr Hanson gave Sophia a flippant question. Did she want to destroy humans? He asked her to say no. She said ‘okay I want to destroy humans’ suggesting the programming for Sophia is not quite sophisticated enough yet to incorporate a moral compass in her ‘understanding ‘.In ‘Robots of Death’ D84 feels almost human and is a quite wonderful character which is illogical for me I know but I adore his cuteness. The script repeats words and sentences closely together many times which is a clever device to emphasise the differences supposed between fallible Humanity and the logical machine and also emphasising the claustrophobic nature of the robots. My favourite line is D84 ‘ I heard a cry’ Doctor ‘ That was me’ repeated over. The other Robots especially SV9 with their aesthetically pleasing faces and calming voices are a lie.

I want to destroy humans

They are logical machines without mercy. Taren Capel because he was raised by them became convinced there needed to be a robot revolution for them. But he was wrong. Does the desire to provide robots with consciousness suggest perhaps there is an inability or reluctance on the part of those humans, real or imagined, to understand and acknowledge the complexity of human impulses, emotions and relationships?

Artificial  made real

It’s true that not all of the robots we’ve seen in Doctor Who are designed necessarily to mimic a humanoid design so it does creep me out a bit that the creators Hong Kong-based robot manufacturer Hanson Robotics have created such a human looking robot. Why that desire to make their design appear so living so human,? The definition of biological is relating to biology or living organisms, (of a member of a person’s family) genetically related.

I do understand that for commercial and aesthetic reasons it may an attempt to help with blending into our world. In the world of Doctor Who robots aren’t always benign. The androids created in ‘The Android Invasion’  by the Kraals contained a gun inside their fingers and went around duplicating people such as Sarah Jane and Harry Sullivan  to prepare for an invasion on earth.

Sarah duplicate the android invasion
Sarah was a duplicate not be messed with

Kamelion was acquired by the Fifth Doctor as a companion after ‘The Five Doctors’ However Kamelion was a shape-shifting android but weak-willed so the Master was able to take control of him twice. Kamelion subsequently asked the Doctor to destroy him to avoid betraying him again which the Doctor did but with some sadness.

The Human Factor?

There could be another view that the danger isn’t from artificial intelligence but from the beings who use robots for their own ends.Humans are seen to be more destructive in Doctor Who where robots are used towards another purpose, mostly for revenge, power or just madness. The golden robotic angels, the Host, who gave information to passengers aboard the Titanic space cruiser were controlled by Max Capricorn  who instructed them to kill all remaining passengers after a meteor collided with the ship. In ‘Robot’ , K1 was a robot designed in the 20th century to replace humans in dangerous environments, but whose prime directive was purposely sabotaged by a group of academics who wanted to take power for themselves. 

In ‘The Caves of Androzani’ we saw androids created by Sharaz Jek, perfect duplicates of the person they copied, so the original living person had to die. Part of the reason Sharez Jek had an android army was he hated his ex-business partner Morgus with a passion as Morgus had betrayed Jek by supplying him with faulty detection equipment in the mines so he was caught in a mud burst and scarred horribly. Jek then raised an android army, and took control of the spectrox refinery and was then forced to wage a war with his androids, battling federal troops under orders from Morgus.

There have been approximately around sixty different robots in Doctor Who, from War Machines, Robot knights, Yeti, Spider robots, the Anne Droid, dear K9 of course (but he deserves an article all to his-self/ itself )Who do we have more to fear from ? Humans or robots? I do value where robots may help us with automating routine tasks but I’m not sure I that I trust that robots will ever ‘know’ or ‘feel’ enough to make value judgements or complex decisions instead of a human in my private kingdom. How does Sophia make you feel ?  Excited ?Positive?  Uneasy ? Repulsed? There is certainly something quite unnerving to be able to view a facsimile image of a human or in the future possibly oneself. Mirror, Mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all?

Sophia the AI robot Would she pass the human test?
Sophia the AI robot Would she pass the human test?

Maria Kalotichou

Maria is a 4th and 5th Doctor fan who grew up through the JNT classic era years. Her favourite classic stories are Robots of Death and Earthshock, well probably, but don’t make her have to choose only one. In her grown up life she currently works in HR.

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