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Meet Sofia. Will She Destroy the World?

Imagine if you can, Japanese punk rock in the background and a motorcycle speeding through the streets of Tokyo. The camera pans around, over the shoulder of the rider and up ahead is a raging monster. The camera shifts again and we’re along side the motorcycle again. A truck pulls up beside the motorcycle and a crane/lift contraption pulls it inside. Soon, out jet three armored beings. They spring into action battling the beast as the A.D. Police arrive and bumble around. The armored suits crush the monster and vanish.

If you recognize that scenario, you may very well be a fan of the anime series Bubblegum Crisis, whatever iteration. The armored beings are the Knight Sabers and they battle rogue “Boomers” – artificial intelligence robots created be Genom to help clean up Japan after a deadly earthquake that devastated the population. These robots were designed to fill in jobs from hard labor and maintenance to customer service and personal assistants. Some of these go “rogue” causing death and destruction.

With the announcement and video proof of the very first interactive Artificial Intelligence, Sofia, and what’s the first thing I could think of? When are they going to freak out and where are the A.D. Police? But did you know that Sofia wasn’t the first “A.I.” at all? Nadine was developed in the U.K. However, Sofia is more interactive than Nadine. It’s fair to say that these A.I.s were developed simultaneously.

The development of these A.I.s is, without a doubt, a major engineering accomplishment. Did anyone ever think about what happens when the machines stop learning and begin to think for themselves? Are we arrogant enough to think that can’t, or won’t, happen?

So, how do I draw the comparison from Sofia to the Boomers of Bubblegum Crisis? Sofia was created to learn and help people. Genom created Boomers to help the people of Japan. A majority of Genom’s Boomers look human and have been put into customer service, which is one of the things that Sofia says she will be able to do as well as train people for customer service. Having worked in retail and done loads of customer service, you either have the skill set or you don’t. It’s really hard to learn. I just don’t see a robot having the capability. Animation is very different from real life; we can do so much with it.

However, there’s a small problem with Genom’s A.I.s. They have a tendency to go berserk. In the customer service models it is usually triggered by someone getting angry at the robot and it takes a few minutes to kick in but once it does the robot mutates into a giant monster (typical, Tokyo and raging giant monsters) and destroys whatever is in its path.  What’s to stop Sofia from doing the same thing? (Aside from the mutating into a giant raging monster, nothing really.)

While we are thinking about Artificial Intelligence and rouge Boomers it would be remiss not to mention Ex Machina, 2015’s creepy hit A.I. movie that made several leaps with its own predictions about the future of robotics engineering. That movie and its conclusion is more terrifying than anything Skynet could ever throw at us.

We can’t leave out Ghost in the Shell (1995), which is currently being made into a live action movie. Ghost in the Shell really pushed our boundaries with perceptions of our own humanity when combined with A.I. and robotics. But anime has always done that. Imagined more and now that our technology is catching up with our imaginations, where do we put on the brakes?

So much of our world is hooked into computers these days that an intelligent, self-learning computer that has the potential to get angry or make decisions based on what it thinks is best for us may not be that best thing for us at all. Not that Genom’s Boomers are like that. They are perfectly well intentioned and programmed. We could talk about Skynet (Google is Skynet but that’s another story all together) and how it really was self-aware. I’ll be waiting for Sofia to freak out. I may or may not say, “I told you so.”


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