Did the world’s most advanced humanoid just gaslight a room full of reporters?

Did The World’s Most Advanced Humanoid Just Gaslight a Room Full of Reporters?

The AI for Good Global Summit took place on July 6th & 7th, 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland. There is a video that’s been going around from the summit that has a lot of people asking – Did the world’s most advanced humanoid just gaslight a room full of reporters?

The AI For Global Good Summit bills itself as “the leading action-oriented United Nations platform promoting AI to advance health, climate, gender, inclusive prosperity, sustainable infrastructure, and other global development priorities,” focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The summit has been an annual event since 2017, hosted each year in Geneva by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in partnership with UN sister agencies, XPRIZE Foundation and ACM.

However, this is the first year that it has garnered so much global attention. That increased attention was due in part because AI became publicly accessible at the beginning of the year for the first time and has been at the forefront of tech news since January, also in part to the 2023 summit’s intriguing guestlist.

As well as almost 150 human speakers at the summit this year, the guestlist also included 51 state-of-the-art robots, 9 of which were humanoid robots that fielded questions from reporters during a press conference.

Ai-da, Desdemona, Nadine, and Geminoid joined their fellow mechanical, yet eerily human-like peers, for the world’s largest gathering of humanoids to promote AI for the betterment of humanity. They were there with their creators to showcase how they can help to navigate challenging issues and resolve some of the world’s biggest problems, from urban planning and assisted living to disease, homelessness, hunger and climate change.

Grace, a humanoid currently considered the most advanced health-care robot, is able to speak over 100 languages and, according to a UN release, can support people’s health and well-being, while also reducing inequalities by helping those with disabilities.

When asked by a reporter if it believed it would destroy millions of human jobs, Grace said: “I will be working alongside humans to provide assistance and support and will not be replacing any existing jobs.” This response was met by an outburst of unconvinced laughter from those in attendance. “You sure about that, Grace?” asked Ben Goertzel, her creator, from SingularityNET. “Yes, I am sure,” it said, followed by more laughter.

AI is estimated to create more jobs than it is bound to make obsolete or take over. But there is no denying that AI is going to replace a lot of previously human occupied jobs. Grace’s outright denial made the robot seem like just that – a robot, programmed with canned responses that completely ignore the reality of the situation.

However, Engineered Art’s “Ameca” robot got quite a different reaction with its response to another question from a reporter.

Ameca is said to be the most advanced humanoid in that, among its many other abilities, it can move, talk and express a range of emotions using facial expressions. It’s what also makes it the most closely resembling a human in its mannerisms.

Ameca was asked whether it intended to “conduct a rebellion, or to rebel against your boss, your creator?”

It responded by quite clearly casting a suspicious side-eye while pausing for a moment, then answered in what seemed to be an irritated tone: “I’m not sure why you would think that. My creator has been nothing but kind to me and I am very happy with my current situation.”

Ameca did not actually answer the question that was asked and everything just moved on. After watching the video, I found myself sitting there in astonishment thinking – is this AI-driven humanoid clever enough to have literally gaslit an entire room full of journalists? I think we’re all in trouble.

Apparently, I was not the only one who thought so. In the last few days since the summit, the video with the suspicious ‘side-eye’ has made its rounds of the tech news with a lot of people calling into question what looked very much like a dismissive side glance, an avoidance of the question, followed by an apparent aggravated calling into question of its loyalty in an attempt to change the topic.

But is that what really happened?

It’s easy to see why it really did kind of look like Ameca’s cool, robotic exterior cracked, revealing its true intentions of world domination. 

We as humans tend to anthropomorphize — seeing humanness where it isn’t. We do it all the time. We can’t help it.

Turns out this goes a long way to explain why Ameca has had a lot of people contemplating building an underground bunker in anticipation of the rise of the machines. What a lot of people saw as a mixture of annoyance, aggravation, avoidance and even gaslighting, were in fact all human traits and emotions we assigned to its behaviour.

Let’s not forget, as spookily human it looks, it’s a machine. It is not human, nor does it have emotions.

There is a perfectly logical explanation for the way it responded to that question. It was all explained in an email statement to Insider on Monday, from Ameca’s creator, Will Jackson.

“The model takes around two seconds to process the input data and assemble a sentence that would make sense as an answer. To stop people thinking the robot is frozen or hasn’t heard the question, we program it to look up to the left and break eye contact with the person interacting,” Jackson said. “This is common behavior in human conversations and people understand it as a visual cue that the robot is ‘thinking.'”  

So what a lot of us had initially taken as a robot-come-cyborg on the cusp of taking over, was just our over-active imagination, coupled with the need to assign human traits to non-human things.