Beyond Science Fiction Tales

Beyond Science Fiction Tales

Juan A. Barceló (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 27
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-489-7.ch010
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Abstract

We have already argued that an automated archaeologist cannot understand past social actions by enumerating every possible outcome of every possible social action. The need to insert all the world within the automated archaeologist’s brain and then maintain every change about is impossible. However, if we cannot introduce the world inside the robot, we may introduce the robot inside the world. What the automated archaeologist would need then is to be situated in the past, and then using observation and attention to learn from human action, because of the complexities of the past, which resist modeling. It leads to a modification of the aphorism espoused by Rodney Brooks (1989): “the past itself should be its own best model.” Consequently, the automated archaeologist must travel to the past to be able to understand why it happened. Only by being situated directly in the past, the automated archaeologist would understand what someone did and why she did it there or elsewhere.
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…by performing better and cheaper, the robots will displace humans from essential roles. Rather quickly, they could displace us from existence.

I’m not as alarmed as many by the latter possibility, since I consider these futures machines our progeny, “mind children” built in our image and likeness, ourselves in more potent form. Like biological children of previous generations, they will embody humanity’s best chance for a long term future. It behaves us to give them every advantage and to bow out when we can no longer contribute. (Moravec, 1998, p. 13)

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The Automated Archaeologist As A Time Machine

We have already argued that an automated archaeologist cannot understand past social actions by enumerating every possible outcome of every possible social action. The need to insert all the world within the automated archaeologist’s brain and then maintain every change about is impossible. However, if we cannot introduce the world inside the robot, we may introduce the robot inside the world. What the automated archaeologist would need then is to be situated in the past, and then using observation and attention to learn from human action, because of the complexities of the past, which resist modeling. It leads to a modification of the aphorism espoused by Rodney Brooks (1989): “the past itself should be its own best model.” Consequently, the automated archaeologist must travel to the past to be able to understand why it happened. Only by being situated directly in the past, the automated archaeologist would understand what someone did and why she did it there or elsewhere.

This is the classical time machine analogy. If situated in the past, the automated archaeologist would interact with the precise context in which social activity was performed because it would be an integral part of it. Wonderful! Now, the bad news. There is no way of actually going back into the past to test a historical hypothesis. The automated archaeologist exists only in the present, then any activity or action or behavior that happened in the past is now out of its reach. It cannot see in the present what was performed in the past. It can examine only what it perceives within the present, the material objects that surround it, here and now, and, only from these objects, the cognitive robot should infer what it has undergone. Of course, the automated archaeologist can perceive the effects of social activity performed in the past, but these are its actual effects. Social activity in the past cannot be perceived in the present, and then, our machine cannot be situated in the context in which the action was performed.

The impossibility of seeing the past affects not only archaeologists but also any discipline dealing with cause and effect. The past should be transferred to the present if someone pretends to explain the cause of an effect observed in the present. When a pediatrician asks the child’s father what his son ate yesterday, she is doing “history,” because she investigates a temporal dimension to solve a why question: why the child has now stomachache. The pediatrician uses what the father says (a narration in the present about something he saw in the past) to “see” in the present what the child’s ate yesterday. Like medical histories, social researchers have at their disposal texts containing narrative memories existing in the present, but written in the past by real (or supposed) witnesses of past events. In so doing, historians are not traveling themselves to the past, but they build a surrogate of the past, which they interrogate. They are situated in a virtual world extracted from a narration -supposed to be true-, written (or told) by an individual having seen someone doing something in the past, or explaining her intentions when acting. The past is then accessible through the filter of a surrogate built indirectly from personal narratives, written or told in the past and preserved in our present.

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