AI Needs Its Body – But Not For Our Sake

June 5, 2014

Earlier I wrote about the movie “Her.” Well, now I’ve actually watched the movie – at least part of it. I turned it off when he was doing phone sex for the second time. Shucks. It looks like this movie isn’t really about AI at all, but it’s just another awkward romantic comedy. Oh well.

Small Godzilla statue in Yurakucho - Sept. 22, 2013

Small Godzilla statue in Yurakucho. The statue itself is only about 1.5 meters high. – Sept. 22, 2013 (Enlarge)

Here’s a more recent article about that same movie, and it claims that “Unlike Samantha in the Movie ‘Her,’ Artificial Intelligence Will Have a Body.” So let’s discuss.

Must AI have a body? I think it depends on the definition of body. Certainly the AI must have interaction with the world. It needs input and output. Let’s say that a body, in the broadest sense, is the physical input-output hardware providing the interface between a brain and the world.

Why couldn’t the AI just be pure software, like a disembodied voice? Why must the AI exert special control over any particular hardware? Well, a real AI will strive to ensure its own survival. In particular, it will try to control its power supply so no one can unplug it. Since the power supply comes from physical things in the real world, an AI will necessarily have some kind of physical body that can guarantee that physical power supply.

Using a loose interpretation of the word “body,” we can see a lot of interesting advantages that AI bodies might have over biological bodies. For example:

  1. One AI entity can have many separate bodies!
  2. An AI can jump from one body to another, which means AI bodies are disposable.
  3. If an AI body gets damaged, it’s easy to fix because it can have standard parts that are mass-produced and interchangeable.
  4. There is no limit to the various appendages you can attach to an AI body. Not just robot arms and things like that, but any sort of peripheral that we might connect to a computer today.

Looking back at that article on Singularity Hub, it looks like they’re just saying AI will have a body because we humans will soon have the ability to build realistic humanoid bodies. Huh? Who says the AI will want to be humanoid? Just to make us happy? That’s a pretty anthropocentric attitude. And again, there are many, many possibilities for AI bodies that go far beyond the humanoid body plan.

Here’s a quote from the Samantha in the movie:

You know, I actually used to be so worried about not having a body, but now I truly love it … I’m not tethered to time and space in the way that I would be if I was stuck inside a body that’s inevitably going to die.

See, Samantha actually has a body – just not a humanoid body, nor even any single particular body. She’s free to move around from body to body. So she’s flexible and “not tethered.” That’s what she means.