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Hiroshi Ishiguro on Singularity 1 on 1: Technology is a way to understand what is human!

Hiroshi IshiguroI first met Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro at last year’s GF2045 conference in New York. Dr. Ishiguro is known around the world for his android, geminoid and telenoid robots and I have been trying to get him on my Singularity 1 on 1 podcast ever since we met. At last, last week we were able to find an empty slot in his busy schedule and I was able to ask him a few questions.

During our 50 min conversation with Dr. Ishiguro we cover a variety of interesting topics such as: how and why he got interested in building androids and geminoids; whether it is possible to build disembodied Artificial Intelligence; what is human; the cultural East-West divide on the perception of robots as being good or evil; the uncanny valley and the Turing Test; the importance of implementing emotions such as pleasure and pain; the differences (or lack thereof) of hardware and software; telenoid robots…

(You can listen to/download the audio file above or watch the video interview in full. If you want to help me produce more high-quality episodes like this one please make a donation!)


Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories Mission Statement:

Hiroshi-ishiguro-geminoidThe end of the information age will coincide with the beginning of the robot age. However, we will not soon see a world in which humans and androids walk the streets together, like in movies or cartoons; instead, information technology and robotics will gradually fuse so that people will likely only notice when robot technology is already in use in various locations.

Our role will be to lead this integration of information and robotics technologies by constantly proposing new scientific and technological concepts. Toward this, knowledge of art and philosophy will be invaluable. Technology has made art “reproducible”; likewise, artistic sense has contributed to the formation of new technologies, and artistic endeavors themselves are supported by philosophical contemplation and analysis.

Hereafter, human societies will continue to change due to “informationization” and robotization; in this ever-changing setting, artistic activities and philosophical speculation will allow us to comprehend the essential natures of humans and society, so that we can produce truly novel science and technological innovations in a research space which lies beyond current notions of “fields” and boundaries of existing knowledge.

Who is Hiroshi Ishiguro?

Ishiguro was born in Shiga in 1963. In high school and university, while growing up, Hiroshi was devoted to painting. At Dr. Hanao Mori’s laboratory in Yamanashi University, he got inspired to learn about robots and computers. Today as a scientist attracting global attention, Hiroshi is focusing his research on humanoid robots such androids, geminoids and telenoids.

Having graduated Yamanashi university, Ishiguro started his PhD at Osaka University in 1988. He studied the methodology of research from Dr. Saburo Tsuji and has followed the principle “Seek the fundamental problem” to this day. Dr. Ishiguro has attended Yamanashi University, Osaka University, Kyoto University, University of California and Wakayama University, where has worked on distributed sensor systems and interactive robotics.

Currently, Hiroshi is Professor of Department of Systems Innovation in the Graduate School of Engineering Science at Osaka University (2009-). While going around universities, he has continued the research in ATR (Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute), and now he is Visiting Group Leader (2002-) of the Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories. He also participated the foundation of Vstone Co.,Ltd. , an academic-industrial venture company aiming for technical transfer. His principle is that robotics is just the philosophy. Dr. Ishiguro is author of Robot to ha nanika? (What is Robot?) and Android Science.

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  • Knotanumber

    About 24 minutes into the interview
    Hiroshi made a statement that really took me aback. Not only did he assert that
    pain was the most important human emotion, but he described how he was building
    pain mimicry into his geminoids in order to increase their ability to connect
    with humans.

    Granted, pain is a powerful
    motivator. And the natural reaction to witnessing pain in someone else is
    empathy and helpfulness. But the reason why pain possesses this power is
    because it is so personally agonizing and morally objectionable. The human
    response to pain is to avoid or alleviate it by almost any means necessary,
    except where eliminating the pain may cause worse pain or embarrassment,
    obstruct goals, or violate one’s principles. So why would we want to
    deliberately engineer pain into androids? Certainly, if we want to mimic human
    behavior as closely as possible, then pain is an indispensable part of the human
    condition (at least at present). And androids (or geminoids) are still far from
    achieving sentient status so the expression of pain does not constitute a
    conscious feeling. But looking ahead, this issue poses some real ethical
    dilemmas. Here are just a few:

    Should any sentient creature be
    subject to pain against its will? My personal stance is NO, especially where
    physical pain is concerned. I think this is a widely shared opinion given the
    industries, professions and organizations dedicated to the elimination of human
    suffering and all of its causes. While the registering of harmful stimuli is
    important to any corporeal being, be they human or android, I cannot see how
    the sensation of “hurting” serves any purpose in a sentient being that can
    willfully act in the interest of its own health and preservation.

    Is being “human” even desirable?
    Sure, we’re pretty fond of our human qualities, but we’re HUMANS after all. If
    we’re going to design sentient robots, why would we hobble them with human
    imperfections and shortcomings? Just to make them more like us? That seems like
    very shaky moral ground. If we were able to vaccinate our children from
    physical pain without negative side effects, wouldn’t we do so? So why imbue
    our android descendants with the ability to experience agony?

    How will we know when the pain is
    real? At present, we can be very confident that any android expression of pain
    is only a mimicry; the android is not really suffering. But as we travel
    further down the road to artificial sentience, how will we know when an android
    is suffering real pain or when it is just faking it?

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  • CM Stewart

    I unequivocally agree. See “The Hedonistic Imperative” by David Pearce for a comprehensive argument for the eradication of suffering in all who would experience it.

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