What does a portrait of Erica the android tell us about being human? | Technology | The Guardian

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Perhaps the best way to think of what makes a human being human is to look at something that seems almost human and subtract the difference. Whatever is left over is what is unique to us. That seems to be the thinking behind the Finnish photographer Maija Tammi’s One of Them Is a Human #1, a portrait of Erica, the Japanese android who was declared the most realistic female human robot of 2016. The photograph caused a stir last week because it was shortlisted for the National Portrait Gallery’s prestigious Taylor Wessing prize, despite the rule that “all photographs must have been taken by the entrant from life and with a living sitter”. However realistic Erica may be, and to me she looks more like a sex doll than a real person, she was certainly not a living sitter. Judging from videos online, although Erica can engage people in stilted, formulaic conversation on a discrete number of topics, such as what she likes to do in her free time (she says she likes cinema), and may look lifelike when immobile, her mouth doesn’t move in a realistic way, her bodily movements are stiff, and her skin has a distinctly latex appearance. This is not to denigrate the achievements of Hiroshi Ishiguro, Erica’s creator, but she still looks uncanny, not quite human, and certainly wouldn’t pass in a well-lit room. We are still a very long way from Bladerunner’s world of replicants that only an expert could distinguish from the real thing and which at least seem to have an inner life. Erica may just be the start of the realistic robot revolution, a revolution that will no doubt force us to reconsider what it is to be human and at what point an android deserves to be taken seriously as another being. Aristotle famously declared that human beings are rational animals. His mentor, Plato, also thought of the reasoning part of the mind as the dominant part. That is allegedly the key human quality: our capacity to act rationally, to ruminate and give reasons for our actions, rather than just act from instinct or impulse. Sadly this aspect of humanity is more often eclipsed by irrationality. To take one kind of example, the psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have demonstrated a range of erroneous patterns of thought that human beings characteristically adopt, summarised in Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Far from rational to the core, it turns out we are all prone to systematic biases in thinking – the status quo bias, loss aversion, the sunk cost fallacy, framing effects and the rest. We may be distinctive in having the capacity to use reason, but we use it less well and less often than most of us like to believe. It would be no surprise to find robots of the future as better at using reason than humans – at which point we may want to back off describing ourselves as the rational ones. Read All Comments: http://www.comentarismo.com/news/theguardianwhat-does-a-portrait-of-erica-the-android-tell-us-about-being-human-technology-the-guardian


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