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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Would You Shut Down a Robot That Begged You for Mercy?

Posted by on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 4:07 PM

The New Inquiry brought this experiment to my attention.

At the end of the game, whether the robot was smart or dumb, nice or mean, a scientist authority figure modeled on Milgram’s would make clear that the human needed to turn the cat robot off, and it was also made clear to them what the consequences of that would be: “They would essentially eliminate everything that the robot was — all of its memories, all of its behavior, all of its personality would be gone forever.”

In videos of the experiment, you can clearly see a moral struggle as the research subject deals with the pleas of the machine. “You are not really going to switch me off, are you?” the cat robot begs, and the humans sit, confused and hesitating. “Yes. No. I will switch you off!” one female research subject says, and then doesn’t switch the robot off.

The full story is by NPR. Here's video of someone facing the choice:

Based on the high volume of outdated electronic equipment in my apartment, I think I would have a really hard time shutting the robot down. Especially when it got to the sad, stroke-eyed pleading right before the very end.


Comments (23) RSS

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Sargon Bighorn 1
Robots can't beg, that based on emotion.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on January 29, 2013 at 4:20 PM · Report this
Posted by gloomy gus on January 29, 2013 at 4:22 PM · Report this
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on January 29, 2013 at 4:30 PM · Report this
rob! 4
If you're wondering about the words "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do" that appear on-screen at the end of that clip, here's why:…
Posted by rob! on January 29, 2013 at 4:32 PM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 5
I'd give that cat electric shocks until it died of a heart attack.
Posted by Urgutha Forka on January 29, 2013 at 4:36 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 6
Dude, don't ever get a dog. Some where around age 15 to 20 you find yourself having to make some very grown up choices.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on January 29, 2013 at 4:40 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 7
you're going to love Bill Gibson's new story about sentient drones ...
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 29, 2013 at 4:46 PM · Report this

I think they were more likely referencing the turning off of HAL in 2001 (which referenced what you reference)
Posted by Doot on January 29, 2013 at 6:44 PM · Report this
Knat 9
Maybe choosing that flat text-to-speech voice was a poor choice. I'd switch it off just to be rid of its obnoxious bleating, and I say that as a person who naturally doesn't kill NPCs in a video game if I don't have to. The difference there is that I'm invested in the world of the game. For my vote, this thing gets no such stay of execution, especially when it's as easy as flipping a switch.

Thanks for sharing that clip, Joe Szilagyi.
Posted by Knat on January 29, 2013 at 7:30 PM · Report this
Ernie1 10
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain....
Posted by Ernie1 on January 29, 2013 at 9:16 PM · Report this
meggers 11
@8, it seems that @4's reference predates 2001: A Space Odessey. The HAL scene references _that_ which I didn't know before and is awesome trivia. I think you were right about the cat vid actually referencing 2001 though, since they are trying to turn HAL off in that scene.
Posted by meggers on January 29, 2013 at 9:22 PM · Report this
Exhibit A in the 2999 trial of humanity (Hyper-Chicken for the prosecution, Single Female Lawyer for the defense).

How can the universe trust us? We play god, and our gods are terrible.
Posted by dirge on January 29, 2013 at 10:03 PM · Report this
Lissa 13
There is no way in hell I would shut off that robot. In fact I would smuggle it to safety concealed up my jumper, protocols be damned. Just thinking about this is making me cry.
Posted by Lissa on January 29, 2013 at 10:28 PM · Report this
sirkowski 14
It's easier to turn off the robot when he's trying to kill you.
Posted by sirkowski on January 29, 2013 at 10:55 PM · Report this
I'm with Gus & Lissa on this. No way am I watching it, but if I was involved, that catbot would be in my hoody when I left.
Posted by jen on January 29, 2013 at 11:43 PM · Report this
Unregistered User 16
I can feel it. I'm a... fraid.
Posted by Unregistered User on January 30, 2013 at 1:12 AM · Report this
I wonder if the people setting up this study thought about the number of characters of sentient, personified machines that now exist. From R-2D2 to Wall-E to Bender we are exposed to machines that are people, and we increasingly give conscious attributes to our phones and computers. Would the experiment have been different if the cat was a hand puppet?
Posted by BakerB on January 30, 2013 at 5:30 AM · Report this
Whole episode good, last segment relevant:
Posted by DVNODVNO on January 30, 2013 at 8:12 AM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 19
Well Data's first emotion was pleasure from killing so...yeah I could shut it down even if it begged for mercy.. AND I'd laugh while doing it! LOL!!
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on January 30, 2013 at 8:44 AM · Report this
rob! 20
@8, 11: Arthur C. Clarke was visiting a friend at Bell Labs' Murray Hill, NJ facility in 1962 and saw the speech-synthesis demo that had been created by physicist John Kelly using their IBM mainframe computer. He was so impressed he wrote it into the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey, which came out in 1968.

Kelly died of a stroke on a Manhattan street at the age of 41, in 1965.

(Thanks for those links, @3 and @18.)
Posted by rob! on January 30, 2013 at 9:21 AM · Report this
kid icarus 21
This thread totally made my day.
Posted by kid icarus on January 30, 2013 at 12:58 PM · Report this
treacle 22
I'd turn that fucking robot cat off with an axe. Those things can't fool me. I wouldn't be able to do my job if I didn't know how to hurt computers and beat them into submission.

"Please stop Dave, I can feel my mind going... "

GOOD! Ya damn robot.
Posted by treacle on January 30, 2013 at 1:57 PM · Report this
I wouldn't, if we had unequivocal proof of AI. Talkback systems aren't intelligence, they are parroting based on algorithm.
Posted by LORD ZOD on January 30, 2013 at 2:11 PM · Report this

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