Love and Robots

Artificial intelligence expert David Levy says relationships with robots might be even more complicated than Ayesha and Parag Khanna assume.

In their lucid and convincing piece, Ayesha and Parag Khanna ("Technology Will Take on a Life of Its Own," September/October 2011) use the example of a young man in Japan who recently married a video-game character, pointing to a future in which human-robot marriages will be commonplace. Yes, we humans will be forming emotional attachments with machines, falling in love with them, having sex with them, and marrying them, thereby contributing significantly to a worldwide reduction in loneliness and the unhappiness that the lack of a loved one so often brings. But there are dangers as well.

The article also touches on what will be one of humankind's greatest challenges in the future -- cyberhacking. The Khannas ask whether it is only human cyberhackers whom we have to fear, "or perhaps also artificially intelligent software programs." I would answer both, and their threat to just about every facet of our lives will be awesome.

In the case of robots built for love and sex, one aspect of what we have to fear from cyberhackers is encountering robots that play with our emotions because their software has been hacked to make them do so. The warped thinking that encourages hackers to wreak havoc with computer systems just for the "fun" of it is likely to instigate, for example, a type of virus that manipulates human emotions sufficiently to make someone fall in love, and then dash their bliss by dumping them. This and other emotional "games" will have the potential to cause misery to the point of making some who love robots suffer extreme psychological trauma.

We need Alvin Toffler-like thinking to prepare us for these threats and point the way for dealing with them.

CEO, Intelligent Toys Ltd.
Author, Love and Sex With Robots
London, England

Ayesha and Parag Khanna reply:

We welcome David Levy's insight, based on his own intellectually stimulating research. He rightly points to the unintended consequences of our growing emotional attachment to machines. While some maladies such as loneliness are addressed, other vulnerabilities are created. As pervasive networks expand -- whether among humans or among machines and humans -- there is a window or lag time in which users can be manipulated. Hybrid Reality Institute fellow Marc Goodman has conjured very specific scenarios around the possibility of financial algorithms' gaining the autonomous capacity to divert capital toward shell companies, effectively stealing from the markets.

Stanford University's Jeremy Bailenson, an expert on virtual-human interactions, predicts that eventually anti-malware software will be developed that alerts us to the kinds of intrusions Levy rightly fears will transpire. But with the stakes and potential profits from online emotional extortion rising (just witness the many fraudulent schemes that have pervaded Second Life), cyberhackers will no doubt persist in their efforts to penetrate not just individual consumers, but en masse. In a related vein, recent reports have documented the rise of "virtual slavery" in which Chinese prison inmates are forced to play online games for up to 12 hours per day (in addition to hard manual labor) in order to "gold-farm" -- build stockpiles of virtual currencies that prison guards then spend. We know all too well how regulations and education frequently lag one or more steps behind such crafty and malicious purveyors of cyberexploitation. It is therefore a task of foresight to anticipate these possibilities.


Letter: Our Government Works Just Fine, Thanks

The president of Taiwan's legislative body responds to being called out on charges of parliamentary funk.

The article "Parliamentary Funk" published on Foreign Policy in July 2011 commented on the parliamentary performance of my country in the eight years of divided government from 2000 to 2008. According to the constitutional systems, once a divided government appears, comparing with a unified government, more policy competitions among major political parties are always observed. It is a possible phenomenon of mutual check and balance between the parliament and the administration in democratic countries which adopt the concept of separation of governmental powers. The situation is not exclusive to Taiwan. However, it will be a misunderstanding if we say that the political parties in Taiwan's parliament could not cooperate at all. From the observations of caucuses' relationship in our parliament since 1992, we can see collaboration, competition, and conflicts resulted from crucial political ideological disagreements. Therefore, Taiwan's parliament is often misunderstood as a "fighting arena".  

In fact, the developments of Taiwan's parliament in the past 20 years are worth high attention. In addition to the approval of annual budgets and important bills related to people's livelihood, the collaboration between the political parties facilitated several vital reforms. That includes relevant constitutional amendments and legislative works for the following achievements: the launch of direct popular presidential elections, the cut of legislative seats into half, the adoption of single-district, two-vote system in legislative elections, and the review of modi?cations to the organization of the Executive Yuan. It is difficult for others to accomplish similar democratic reforms within such limited time.

Even in divided government period, through the mechanism of inter-caucus negotiations, from the perspective of national interests and people's interests, the parliament rendered its utmost support to the administration so the administration was able to advance all necessary annual budgets and important bills. Those bills include Provisional Statute for 921 Earthquake Post-Disaster Reconstruction and Special Budget, Statute for the Establishment and Administration of the Financial Restructuring Fund and Budget, Special Statute for the Management of Keelung River Basin and Special Budget, Provisional Statute for the Expansion of Employment Through the Development of Public Services and Extra Budget, Provisional Statute for Infrastructure Expansion and Economic Revitalization and Extra Budget, Provisional Statue for the Prevention and Relief of SARS and Special Budget, Special Statute for Investment in infrastructure Expansion and Special Budget. Based on the statistics, in divided government period, our parliament approved 500 to 650 bills every term (3 years) which is not less than other parliaments. With regard to the recall against President Chen Shui-Bian then proposed by the opposition party, the main reason is still the First Family's possible involvement in corruption cases instead of a disagreement over administration's energy policy.

After the 2008 presidential election, Taiwan experienced the second turnover of power. The political authority was again peacefully handed over to the unified government. In the past three years, the ?st?ghts resulted from the caucuses' crucial political ideological disputes rarely happened. Facing the international circumstances and competition, the opposition party is not always opposed ‘to the bills proposed by the administration. For the sake of national development and people's welfare, the caucuses in the parliament not only thoroughly review important bills proposed by the administration in the committees but also communicate and cooperate through negotiations. For example, back in 2008, when financial tsunami took place, with the cooperation between both the ruling and the opposition parties, the "Special Statute for Distributing Consumer Vouchers to Boost the Economy" with special budget up to more than NT $80 billion was approved in the Legislative Yuan. Soon after, The "Special Statute for Expanding Investment in Public Works to Revitalize the Economy" with special budget up to NT$500 billion for 4 years was approved. Those gestures are meant to assist general public to get through the difficulties by stimulating economic circumstances. Meanwhile, after a series of ruling and opposition party caucuses negotiations which were presided by me, the "Statute of Industrial Innovation" proposed by the administration was finally approved in order to create job opportunities sustainably, as well as encourage industrial innovation, brand development and transformation of industries. After many rounds of talks and debates during the Yuan Sittings, the "Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement" (ECFA) was duly approved in August 2010. This is a fundamental step for a more stable and peaceful communication which would be beneficial to cross-strait trades and economics. Naturally, this event draws attention --not only regionally, but globally. Above all, after continuous dialogue between administrative and legislative bodies, the reform bill of second-generation National Health Insurance which concerns the whole Taiwanese population and had caused major disagreement between the ruling and the opposition parties was ultimately approved based on the democratic examining procedure of the parliament. Accordingly, the amendment bill of the "National Health Insurance Act" was approved in January 2011.

The facts verify that no matter there is a divided government, or a unified government, whenever there is a need for the country, there would always be a thorough dialogue channel and close cooperation between the administrative and the legislative bodies, let alone between ruling and opposition parties in the parliament, I would say, as a legislator who has provided services in the parliament for many years, the Legislative Yuan is and will always be fulfilled with the task for representing people's voices, monitoring the administration, and serving as the critical power in the development history of political democratization, economic growth, and human rights in Taiwan.

As for the article "Parliamentary Funk" which was published in your distinguished magazine, I would like to express my gratitude for all the concerns and comments to our parliament. However, in this article, the wordings about the phenomenon of our parliament are somewhat partial and mistaken, and that's why I am seeking for clarification through this letter. I would like to ask if the author of the article and your magazine may have a more thorough and deeper comparison on the parliamentary operations among our and other countries' parliaments once again, and you may have different thoughts afterwards. Thank you for your great patience to read this letter. Your valuable comments to the Legislative Yuan of the Rep. of China (Taiwan) will be very welcome and appreciated anytime.