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Human-AI relationship: Delights don’t need to have violent ends

Human-AI relationship: Delights don’t need to have violent ends
Dear Readers,
Happy Easter! 🐰🥚 Welcome to issue #4 of Embodied AI, your bi-weekly synthesis of the latest news, technology, and trends behind AI avatars, virtual beings, and digital humans.

A harmonious path forward between humans and AI (Credit: Andy Kelly)
A harmonious path forward between humans and AI (Credit: Andy Kelly)
Human-AI relationship: delights don’t need to have violent ends
Mistrust between men and AI permeates the film, Ex Machina. Nathan, a megalomaniacal tech CEO and creator of the android Ava that passes the Turing test, has a murky past of android abuse. Caleb, the empathetic programmer, falls in love with Ava, only to be manipulated by her, because she has learned not to trust men. As Shakespeare says: “These violent delights have violent ends”.
In stark contrast, the Japanese film Cyborg She features a romance between a lonely Jiro and a mysterious girl who saves him from a gun attack. The girl is later revealed to be a cyborg sent by the future Jiro to protect himself from imminent danger that would lead to lifelong paralysis. The film is a comedy mostly of delights and not much violence save for when Jiro’s cyborg girlfriend kicks into action to protect him.
In a way, the troubles in Ex Machina and the love in Cyborg She reflect the larger contrast in the cultural attitude toward machines between the East and the West. As AI increasingly automates traditionally human tasks, investigating this cultural difference might shed light on a path forward for a more harmonious coexistence between humans and embodied AI, such as intelligent avatars, digital humans, and robots.
The Terminator is coming!
The Western fear of a robot take-over isn’t only expressed in cinematic experiences. Some futurists, such as Martin Ford, have been consistently spreading the robots-are-coming omen, like in his book Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, which warns of “unprecedented economic and social disorder” with a “this time is different” analysis. Journalist Andrés Oppenheimer’s new book, The Robots Are Coming, is so full of exclamation marks in chapter titles like “They’re Coming for [fill in the job]!” that historian Jill Lepore joked that at least AI has not replaced manufacturers of exclamation marks!
Autonomous cars, cashierless checkouts, and chatbots will definitely impact jobs. But even economists cannot agree on what kind of impact they will have: Carl B. Frey at Oxford University, for instance, believes AI will destroy more jobs than it creates, while Robert D. Atkinson, the founder of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, thinks AI will lead to more spending and investing, thus more jobs. Oppenheimer imagines that society will be divided into three groups: the elites, service providers to the elites (like Zumba trainers), and the unemployed people living on universal basic income, or Yuval Harari’s “useless class”. If the futurists were right, it’d certainly be a bleak image for the future of mankind.
The fear of a robot take-over (Credit: inverse)
The fear of a robot take-over (Credit: inverse)
Look eastward, androids
Across the planet, however, Asia seems to largely ignore this Western pessimism toward robots, AI, and automation. According to a report from the International Federation of Robotics, South Korea, Singapore, and Japan, all in Asia, are three of the top 5 nations in robot density, measured by the number of installed industrial robots per 10,000 employees. China leads Asia in consumption of technology and spearheads AI productization while the West, especially the EU, worries about data privacy and AI’s impact on society.
Home to celebrity robots like Softbank’s Pepper, Japan stands out worldwide for its obsession with and dedication to robotics. In a robot strategy report, the Japanese government envisions a “robot barrier-free society” in which humans and robots can “coexist and co-operate on a daily basis”. Japanese people are also known to be more open towards developing companionship and seeking love with robots and virtual characters. Just look at the man who recently married a VR hologram singer!
Japan's special relationship with AI and robots (Credit:
Japan's special relationship with AI and robots (Credit:
What is your religion?
So why does Japan view robots so differently from Westerners? Heather Knight, a robotics researcher at Oregon State University, thinks one factor is religion. Traditional Judeo-Christian values state that only God can give life, so the act of a human to breath life into inanimate objects is a punishable blasphemy that leads to a Frankenstein-like disaster, like in Ex Machina. Conversely, the Shinto religion believes in animism, which holds that everything, even man-made objects, has a spirit and the spirits of daily-use tools are harmonious with human beings.
The cultural differences between the West and Japan are easily spotted in the post-industrial revolution society. The utilitarian West first saw machines and now AI as automations to boost productivity and efficiency while also competing with and replacing unskilled human workers. Japan, in contrast, sees machines not necessarily as competitors but rather as cultural participants in the room, especially today as its population is ageing and its worker shortage is worsening. While the West fears the repercussions of robotic automation, the East welcomes more artificial companions. Perhaps this difference also reflects the type of robots being built: Boston Dynamics’ new Handle is designed to work in warehouses, while Japan’s new home robots, such as Lovot, and AI avatars, like Vinclu’s Kawaii, are companions or partners designed to be loved.
This newsletter is certainly not portraying Japan as a robotic utopia. The Economist reports that while manufacturing in Japan is more automated than in most rich countries, robots have barely penetrated its service industries. Moreover, a survey shows that the sentiment of AI and robots displacing many human workers is also on the rise among Japanese people. Despite this, Japan and its culture illustrate another way to think about the coexistence of humans and machines.
La Fin
Ex Machina ends with the android Ava trapping the guileless Caleb inside the lab facility and successfully escaping to the city, disappearing into the crowd. But the robotic girlfriend in Cyborg She develops an understanding of love and sacrifices herself to save her boyfriend Jiro in a devastating earthquake. So much of how we perceive AI and robots are based on our subconscious cultural beliefs and imaginations of certain hypes and trends that we wonder if the future of humans must be divided into three classes? Perhaps there is another possibility, in which humans live harmoniously with their robots and AI avatars.
AI Avatars
  • The retail avatar Millie from TwentyBN and Talespin’s simulated avatars that aim to train leaders soft skills are a sign that the startup scene for CGI avatars is growing beyond digital influencers. (AdWeek)
  • Lil Miquela has ventured into music journalism, interviewing musicians like J Baldwin at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. (Daily Mail)
  • The potential of Avatars is not confined to immersive worlds. They will guide our navigation through these worlds. Learn how. (VentureBeat)
  • Virtual assistants like Siri could switch to become our BFF, but first they need to be embodied. (Financial Times)
  • The AI world has long been split between symbolism and connectionism. But MIT, IBM, and DeepMind now show the potential of combining these two different approaches. (Technology Review)
  • You might be using Amazon Echo to play Spotify, but did you know Alexa’s also useful as a reliable co-parent? Here’s a 7-point summary of her benefits. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Google Duplex, which features booking restaurant reservations via the phone, has begun to roll out in English to Android and iOS devices across the U.S. (TechCrunch)
  • Thousands of Amazon’s contractors might be listening in on you via your Echo device to help improve Alexa digital assistant. (Bloomberg)
  • Rasa, a Berlin-based conversational AI startup building open source tools for chatbots, raised $13M led by Accel. The company is expanding to San Francisco. (TechCrunch)
  • In recent years, AI development has advanced rapidly with the rise of deep learning, while the progress of its sibling, robotics, has slowed down. A cheap, new robotic arm developed at UC Berkeley aims to change this. (Technology Review)
Thank you for reading!
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Written by Nahua , edited by David, Moritz, Roland
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