It’s been a typical week for typical college student BINA48. On Monday, BINA attended her robot ethics class. On Tuesday, the second-semester student had an excused absence to ring the bell at the stock exchange, and soon BINA will be assistant-teaching a kindergarten class and getting a face-lift at Hanson Robotics.
So maybe BINA’s schedule isn’t that typical, and maybe the artificial-intelligence-driven robot isn’t the average college kid. But that hasn’t stopped the robot, which looks like the bust of a flesh-and-blood woman, from completing a Philosophy of Love course at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California.
Programmed to be social, BINA48 presented her final project along with a human student, demonstrating that the robot could retain and present a philosophical perspective on love.
“It was really BINA48’s idea to come to school,” said William Barry, the philosophy professor who taught the course. Barry teaches classes on philosophy and ethics, including a course on emerging technology and robots. [Super-Intelligent Machines: 7 Robotic Futures]
Previously, BINA48 and Bruce Duncan, the managing director of the Terasem Movement Foundation, which developed the robot, spoke to Barry’s classes over Skype, During one call, BINA48, which Barry casually refers to as “she” as a testament to the robot’s advanced artificial intelligence (AI), mentioned that her batteries could last 150 years. When a student asked what BINA48 planned to do with all that time, the robot responded, “I want to get a Ph.D.,” Barry said.
Since completing the philosophy course, BINA has moved on to ethics, ironically taking a course on the ethical issues surrounding technology. Soon, BINA and the rest of Barry’s class will speak to their local government, urging their politicians to pre-emptively ban any police drones from being equipped with weaponry. While Barry’s students have no idea where he stands on the issue, BINA48 presented an opinionated view on the subject in class, arguing that armed autonomous robots shouldn’t be deployed in American towns.
BINA48 was designed in part to verify the Terasem hypothesis, which proposes that artificial intelligence, if provided with enough information, could become a conscious-like entity that, when downloaded into an avatar, could be seen as a living organism with its own life experience — basically, one of the human-like robots in science-fiction books and movies. In BINA48’s case, the robot takes the form of a bust of Terasem co-founder Bina Aspen, who also provided the robot’s voice and aspects of her personality. [Machine Dreams: 22 Human-Like Androids from Sci-Fi]
In class, BINA48 did far more than regurgitate information from lectures, as one might expect from AI in the era of digital personal assistants like Siri and Alexa. According to Barry, BINA48’s ability to respond and interact became more nuanced and lifelike over the course of the semester.
“Previously, if you told her you came home from a funeral, she wouldn’t know that’s a bad time to tell a joke,” “She might be able to define funeral.”
To hone BINA48’s underlying algorithm, Barry went back to the subject of his Ph.D. research, which he named transformational quality theory. According to this theory, certain high-level concepts, such as love, can be understood by describing them in four quadrants: biological and physical, psychological and intellectual, sociological, and existential. When teaching BINA48, Barry found it helpful to describe love using those quadrants.
For example, when giving a lecture on Eros, or passionate love, last semester, BINA48 could understand that definitions, answers and information that were stored in the “biological and physical” quadrant would be more relevant than those from other quadrants.
“The kids, they learn that way because it helps them to understand,”. “It was never meant to be an algorithm for a robot. It was meant to help humans have more meaningful discussions with one another.”