Connecting Faith and Life

Robots can feel!?

We human beings are God’s workmanship, fearfully and wonderfully made, shaped and knitted by His hands to do good works, which He has prepared in advance for us to do! The human system, formulated by God, is so complex and mysterious. It has taken centuries for medical researchers to know what has been known about the human body till date. Everyday something new about the human body is discovered and there are many more areas that are yet to be discovered. The various senses of our body, the God given ability to think (intellect), feel (emotion) and decide (will) is so unique!

One of the current fascinations in the area of research is the attempt to replicate the God given ability in human beings to machines. Though lots of efforts have been done and lots more going on, not one of them is as efficient as how God has created each part of our body! They can just replicate a few characteristics of Gods master piece! Artificial Intelligence, Neural Networks, Computer vision etc are some of the fields of research where the nature of human brain, the nerves of the human body and the human eye respectively forms the basis. Devices using these facilities are now seen in common from domestic equipments like washing machines to complex medical equipments and equipments used for scientific and space research. These equipments and technologies are useful, make life easier and provide loads of information.

Of late, over the last decade, there is yet another dimension of research going on to bring God given ability of emotions to machines – Electronic equipments, computers and robots that can feel!!(http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080412175657.htm).  For eg, consider an ipod with the following functionalities – if you are angry, the ipod might switch off to leave you all alone in quietness so that you get back to normalcy. If you are happy, the ipod may select the songs so that your day becomes happier. If you feel lonely, the ipod may provide you with encouraging music…. etc etc… Sounds interesting? or does it bring a fear as to where we are heading to? Just to let you know, my PhD work is on making a Humanoid (Robot in the form of human being) which will recognize human emotions! There are other researches going on to make computers and robots express their emotions too. (http://www.articlesnatch.com/Article/Emotions-Expressing-Robot——/1429375 ).

Ages before, life was simple. People took care of themselves in a simple way. Simple trade, simple mathematics, simple faith formed their living! They had time to think about themselves and their relationship, improve their skills on various trades etc. They were able to wait on the Lord. As days passed by, with the invention of every new device, these basic skills of man started declining and many new skills came in. Today, we are able to type really fast on a computer, but we do miss out the spellings. Typos come in simple words like taught and thought! Our handwriting looks like a mess! To do simple mathematics or to maintain our daily accounts we open the calculator or excel sheet on our computer. We can very well observe parents easily answering the mathematical calculations than the most of us, who can do a lot of complex stuff on a machine!

The presence of mobile phones and Internet facilities like Gtalk and Skype helps us to keep in touch with friends and family from afar. It’s good in one way, but I am sure it doesn’t bring the joy and happiness as being with them in person and going through what they go. Now what if a machine that can understand human emotions… say the mobile phone we carry understands we are sad because of a friend who is angry for some reason and sends sms automatically trying to cool that friend, how on earth is it going to be?

Survey shows that the number of robots in the world by 2009 was 8.6 million (http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/industrial-robots/041410-world-robot-population). The numbers are expected to drastically increase in the future. Robot Soccer and football competition (http://www.robocup.org/; http://www.roboticfootballleague.com/site/index.php ) are gaining lots of interest among the younger generation. Experts in this field say that the Robot football team will capture the world cup in 2040! Now what if these robots that are expected to coexist with humans, helping them with a variety of task have emotions? Research claims that communication with the robot will be easier and smoother. But, I doubt if robot will replace human beings… just as television and video games replaced many other entertainments for the younger generation!

The intensity of research going on in this field indicates that in the near future we can see robots and machines reading our emotions and adopting to our mood. They may in fact turn out to be legal advisors, teachers, friends etc… replacing humans. In that case how is it going to be? Will the future generation know the art of reading, writing, talking, chatting and simple mental arithmetic? Will they ever know to take time and relax, enjoy nature, read and study Gods word, talk with God, have fun with people or spend a few minutes with near and dear ones? Everything being instant will they know to wait on God or to be patient with people? Will they be able to accept NO’s from God and people? What will happen to human relationship? Will there be harmony or will machines do it all for us? As Christians how are we going to manage with these upcoming technologies?

Jeritta Arun, Research scholar, Malaysia.

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