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Artificial Intelligence and Human Development

Robot with butterfly


The logos (empirical data) is that future robots will likely be smarter, more capable, and perhaps even more sensitive and sensible than we are. The mythos (larger symbolic narrative) is what we make of it. We can see our robotic creations as reminders that, while there are things we cannot know, the most likely path to wisdom is not to become more disembodied like computers but to become more embodied, more human.

Previously published as "Under the Skin of the New Machine" in the Spring/Summer 1999 issue of Spirituality & Health. In the 50s, Tobor the Great, the "man-made monster with every human emotion," was pure science fiction. Now at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab, robots Cog and Kismet point toward real consciousness and maybe a sense of soul. On hand is the Lab's resident theologian. Dr. Anne Foerst, to help explore what we can and cannot know about ourselves and the machines that may one day keep us as pets. You’d better come look at Cog!” said Matt Williamson, so Anne Foerst, the resident theologian of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) lab, left her computer and raced down the corridor to see what had made Williamson, an expert on building robot arms, so excited. At the AI Lab, one can never be sure what to expect. Downstairs, in the leg lab, they’ve built stork-like robots that, contrary to conventional wisdom, could run and leap long before they could walk. Along another corridor is Kismet, a remarkably cute robot head with luxuriously long eyelashes that actually does what Furbies only pre …

Stephen Kiesling is a former Olympic rower, cocreator of the Nike Cross Training System, and editor at large of Spirituality & Health. A 35th anniversary edition of The Shell Game: Reflections on Rowing and the Pursuit of Excellence has just been published.

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