After posting my last exercise work on Artificial versus Human Intelligence I read in the last issus of Smithsonian an article about the technology center in Korea (Shteyngart, 2017). Seoul, the capital of South Korea, with nearly half of the population living in the 25 Million metropol. A country addicted to the sense of perfection as the hero in the TV show Hair Transplant Day expressed “Why should I love like this, being less than perfect.” Where a life is mediated by gadgets, smart technologies, IoT (internet of things) and a high social pressure in high performance culture from early childhood onwards, with at times dramatic health issues and personal identity disorders. Apartment and toilets as hyper-smart, ” I couldn’t figure out how to get water out of the tap.” Reading the article is like experiencing the Baudrillard’s simulacra par excellence, a ‘phantasmagoric wonderland’ where the ‘future rushes into the present.’
When the author describes the building monitor of the Raemian apartment complex announcing the arrival of parents by flashing their picture in the screen ‘the “parents” .. are smiling, gregarious, perfectly coiffed and impervious to history. One gets the sense they never existed, that they too are just a figment in the imagination of some especially clever new Samsung machine.’ (p.71)
It is one breaking news that the humanoid robot designed by the Korean institute KAIST won the precious global Darpa challenge prize 2015. It is another view to read that the challenge was addressing the desire to simulate disaster scenarios like the Fukushima meltdown. It is quite an ethic desire to be able to rescue human lives in situations where human beings cannot operate. According to Oh Jun-ho, who worked on the winning robot model since 15 years, states that a humanoid robot is ‘the only robot that can solve all the general problems.’
For me fascinating but also a kind of strange are some answers given by Oh. On the one hand it seems quite understandable that South Korea has a strong belief in technology as it seems to be unbiased by a history ‘like Western countries, where science has generated bad things, like mass homicide.’ On the other hand a belief that ‘robots should be programmed with intelligence levels in inverse proportion to their physical strength’ as ‘he may kill you.’ (p. 76) Nevertheless, a belief that in the future ‘everything will be robotized.’ (p.78)
The robot, called Hubo, is not like a replicant from Bladerunner, it is rather like a toy robot that triggers affinity and the author finds it ‘endearing’. Quite a good illustration of Mori’s concept of the uncanny valley. The author underlies his notion with illustrating the option of having humaniid robots for health care, especially for basic care services for elderly, as ‘simulating true companionship.’ (p.78)
And there is another notion articulated by the author, a notion of ‘convergence .. that ‘humankind and hubokind are destined someday to become one.'(p. 78) There are different kinds of robots, more toys perhaps, and ‘robot’ kind devices used as extension for human activities, especially specific work functions e.g. exoskeleton as power-asist for labor-int
ensive tasks. A concept to extend physical strenghts for elderly to stay in the workforce longer. This perspective of convergence is a Transhumanist view (see my post on Transhumanism and Spiekermann ed al., 2017)
With all those kind of perfections the author is concerned about the space and place for humans ‘we will look perfect, but inside we will be completely stressed out and worried about our place in the pecking order.’ (pp. 78-80)
I would add here that the virtual simulacra can have in fact fatal consequences for those people, e.g. ignoring the embodied being of human by excessive online gaming like the online game in HongKong (Ruddick, 2015)
The author concludes with the a analogy of the Korean mudangs, shamans in the mountain who act as ‘intermediaries between humans and the spirit world.’ A truly human longing beyond ‘efficiencies and connectivity, contentment, self-knowledge, or happiness’. An everlasting human desire to search for the Who we are. And the image of a woman praying with a smartphone in front of her, praying for fertility on Seonbawi, the prayer rock in Seoul. The author concludes at the end that
‘a giant and timeless weather-beaten rock and a small electronic device ..steer her gently into the imperfect world to come.’ (p. 80)
What one can say that there are different notions on how to see the future and human existence. One group (Transhumanist) are having a ‘naive’ belief in the positive aspects of technology and its facilitation and ‘enlightening’ of human life (utopia). The other group with a rather pessimistic dystopian perspective where robots and artificial intelligence are taken over control of the world and enslaving humankind. A literal image of Plato’s Cave with humankind prisoners deprived of an existence in freedom. I would see the truth will be in between, humankind will reflect all the time on its nature and vulnerability and seeking for answers on ontological truth. Technology as a tool will either support or not – a fight between perspectives will end possibly in wars.
- Leong, M. (2017) Research Versions of Hubo, [Photograph], Available from: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/visit-seoul-writer-future-robots-180963238/ [accessed 24 July 2017].
- Schaffeld, S.J. (2017) Prayer’s Rock [Drawing]
- Ruddick, G. (2015) ‘Chinese gamer dies after playing World of Warcraft for 19 hours’, In:The Telegraph, 04 Mar 2015. [Online] Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/11449055/Chinese-gamer-dies-after-playing-World-of-Warcraft-for-19-hours.html[Accessed: 24 July 2017].
- Shteyngart, G. and Leong, M. (2017) ‘Thinking Outside the Bots’, In: Smithsonian, (June 2017) pp. 66-80.
- Spiekermann, S., Hampson, P., Ess, C. M., Hoff, J., Coeckelbergh, M. and Franck, G. (2017) ‘Wider den Transhumanismus’, In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 19 June 2017. [Online] Available from: https://www.nzz.ch/meinung/kommentare/die-gefaehrliche-utopie-der-selbstoptimierung-wider-den-transhumanismus-ld.1301315 [Accessed: 20 June 2017].