From virtual citizens to assistant robots, technology is becoming more and more human

Retrieved from Morning Future

Is it possible that the advancement of technology increases the desire to humanize the technology itself? Some recent news seems to confirm this anthropomorphic view. In Malta, for example, the Ministry of Tourism presented Marija and called her the first virtual citizen. It is an interactive virtual character based on artificial intelligence, able to provide information about Malta and about everything that is happening in the Maltese Islands. Marija is designed to look like a typical Maltese woman, with characteristics and features associated with the Mediterranean. It is accessible to all tourists through an app and is therefore a virtual assistant to ask for advice on places to visit or those where you can eat better, directly from your phone.

In Japan, on the other hand, PaPeRo was created, a robot to help and keep company with the elderly, equipped with cameras to film and for face recognition and sensors to detect temperature and humidity. In addition to being able to talk to people, thanks to artificial intelligence.

“They are both entities that respond to the humanization needs of technology, but they do it in a completely different way,” explains Francesco Bianchini, associate professor of philosophy of science at the University of Bologna. The first actually concerns the public and socio-economic dimension. «Assistant Marija is a virtual agent who, however, with citizenship achieves a kind of humanity: she is even called a citizen. At the same time, there is also a political operation: Malta has chosen to make its tourism visible through this artificial intelligence tool. It is an interesting operation: the goal is to try to make people feel as comfortable as possible in a vision of tourism personalization, to which marketing is therefore linked. At the same time, however, Malta is also proving to be a suitable place for innovation and research ». There had been similar cases in Australia with the virtual creation of the perfect candidate for the election.

The Japanese robot, on the other hand, represents a more individual sociality that starts from scratch. “These assistants for the elderly are nothing new, especially in Japan,” Bianchini continues. “But in this case, it is the human directly involved – that is, the older individual – who attributes humanity to the robot through the interaction and communication it initiates with the machine.”

But what is specifically meant by humanizing technology? According to Bianchini, there are two possible definitions to answer this question. “Humanization can be understood as the attempt to make machines and software more like us humans, giving them the look and the features that are similar to ours. It is a particularly interesting phenomenon because those who work in this perspective also get feedback on what people are and how they function cognitively. It is therefore an indirect way of deepening the human being ‘.

This interpretation is typical of the social sciences and philosophy, while the second definition is much more pragmatic, believing – says Bianchini – that “artificial artifacts are only support for human activity, which therefore does not completely replace us, but which interacts with us, they helps our existence, expands human resources and capabilities. ”Digging tunnels, going to earthquake zones, and traveling in space are just some of the examples where robots are used to support human capabilities.

We therefore tend to humanize technology both to make it look like humans and to be able to interact better with it and utilize it for our support.

However, the two aspects have a point of contact thanks to Big Data and artificial intelligence, which by being able to chew and process infinite data, makes some support devices incredibly similar to humans. The home voice assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa, and those present in smartphones, like Apple’s Siri, are a small demonstration of this. In fact, they offer extremely effective interaction and are so human-like that they are able to anticipate some user requests.

However, the recovery of humanization as technology evolves has different causes, according to Bianchini. “On the one hand, there is the fear that robots can delete human resources and, for example, remove jobs. On the other hand, however, there is the opposite trait, characterized by optimism and self-confidence, after which the improvement of the technological level will only give man new opportunities and solutions ”. At the heart of these two opposing visions are ordinary citizens: “Their request for humanization has also been made to demand greater ethics and respect for the rules.”

The interesting is also connected with this eerie valley effect, “Effect of the disturbing valley”, a hypothesis put forward by the robot researcher Masahiro Mori, in 1970, according to which the comfort that man experiences in the interaction with a robot increases progressively with the growth of the robot’s human appearance to a point where the comfort itself suddenly collapses and becomes a negative feeling, and then goes back to the previous levels of enjoyment again. “There is therefore a gray area where the humanization of robots creates alienation and discomfort. And it is special that it is a midpoint and not the last, ”Bianchini concludes.

The negative effects occur when the level of equality with humans reaches around 70/80 percent and disappears around 90 percent. However, the humanoid features that Marija and PaPeRo have reached do not reach such high levels: users will therefore be able to fully exploit their potential without any problems.


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