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Short & Sweet AI - Dr. Peper EPISODE 51, 26th April 2021
Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun Reveals Three Rights and Two Wrongs About the Future
00:00:00 00:06:26

Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun Reveals Three Rights and Two Wrongs About the Future

We all have thoughts of the future. Some of us will only think of it in passing, but others will spend months or even years contemplating the endless possibilities.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s vision for the future, beautifully presented in his latest book, ‘Klara and the Sun,’ shows an excellent level of thought and research. The British novelist presents an emotionally nuanced concept of what it means to be human or non-human.

In this episode of Short and Sweet AI, I discuss Ishiguro’s latest book and its depiction of robots and artificial intelligence. I also delve into what immortality could look like for humans – will it be robots in our future or something different?

In this episode, find out:

  • What Ishiguro got right and wrong about the future of robots and AI
  • How Ishiguro depicts robots and the future of work
  • The debate about immortality – robots vs. the cloud
  • The ethical considerations of human-like robots

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Episode Transcript:

Hello to you who are curious about AI, I’m Dr. Peper.

We all have thoughts about the future, some of us in passing and some spend months and years thinking about it. Kazuo Ishiguro’s vision, beautifully presented in his latest book, Klara and the Sun, shows much thought and research. This British novelist presents emotionally nuanced concepts about what it means to be human and not human. I’m not an artificial intelligence expert nor a Nobel prizing winning author like Ishiguro. But I am someone who’s fascinated by artificial intelligence and want people to understand what AI means for our future. From that perspective, I’ve identified three things Ishiguro got right, and two things I think he got wrong, in his new book Klara and the Sun. 

First, his depiction of Klara, an artificial friend, or robot, meshes with my understanding of what robots will be like in the future. They will have the ability to understand and integrate information and read and understand human emotions. This ability will surpass the ability of the humans around them at times. With exposure to more human situations and more human observations, robots will increase and refine their emotional abilities. They’ll have true feelings, not simulate them.

The second thing Ishiguro gets right is the future of work. There will be substitutions of humans with machines as machines do more and more of the work. Humans will be displaced and just as in the novel, people will struggle to redefine their role in society and find new meaning.

And the third thing that Ishiguro accurately writes about is the inequality created by those who choose and can afford to have gene-edited children, described as the lifted kids compared to the non-lifted kids, and those whose parents can’t afford or choose not to have their children’s genes edited before birth. I think this will be a real possibility in the near future. There will also be major inequalities in wealth, employment, and opportunity as depicted in the novel.

But one thing that doesn’t make sense is that Klara is able to learn and understand her surroundings so exceedingly well and yet make a very major wrong conclusion. In the book, Klara reasons that people, like robots, need the sun to sustain, nourish and heal them after she misinterprets one example. In the future, robots will have onboard databases that would have quickly given Klara correct information about how humans die from illnesses different than robots. This part of the plot did not seem to fit.

But even more frustrating and inaccurate, I think, is how the author depicts immortality in the future. The longevity culture thrives today so we know it will be prominent in the decades ahead. In the novel, Ishiguro has immortality being carried out through robots trained to learn and replicate everything about a person they’re going to replace. Klara has the ability to exactly replicate the way a human speaks, walks, and sees the world. As a robot, she can capture a human’s personality, but Ishiguro makes the point that a robot is still unable to capture ‘the human heart”.

Established futurists, even today, have said that in the future we will achieve immortality in a different way. We won’t rely on a robot to use their deep learning algorithms to learn and mimic everything about a person so a human can live on as a robot after death like in this book.

No, our immortality will come by uploading our consciousness to the cloud. It’s already begun. Brain–computer interfaces exist today as I’ve discussed in my episode on Neuralink. Highly complicated fields such as synthetic biology, microscopic robots, nanomaterials, and quantum computing, along with others, are merging. It’s inevitable that we’ll have the capability to connect our neocortex and the totality of who we are to a dedicated computer. We can thus choose if we want immortality in a synthetic cloud and choose when to be downloaded at some future time.

As a final point, I think what Ishiguro addresses so eloquently in the novel by what happens to Klara in the end is one of the most important parts of the book. He makes us feel connected to Klara so that her end kindles in us ethical questions. Ethical questions about how to treat, care for and dispose of robots. When a robot truly feels, rather than simulates emotion, then doesn’t a robot have rights?

Thanks for listening. Be curious and if you like this episode, leave a comment, or a thumbs up to let me know you like the content. From short & Sweet AI, I’m Dr. Peper.