David Hanson, the founder and CTO of Hanson Robotics, a maker of humanlike robots and AI software, has a stimulating article in IEEE Spectrum that makes points that are also relevant to the larger issue of how we develop machine intelligence, in partiular how we ensure that hyper-intelligent AI remains “friendly”. From “Why We Should Build Humanlike Robots“:

…On the tree of robotic life, humanlike robots play a particularly valuable role. It makes sense. Humans are brilliant, beautiful, compassionate, loveable, and capable of love, so why shouldn’t we aspire to make robots humanlike in these ways? Don’t we want robots to have such marvelous capabilities as love, compassion, and genius?

Certainly robots don’t have these capacities yet, but only by striving towards such goals do we stand a chance of achieving them. In designing human-inspired robotics, we hold our machines to the highest standards we know–humanlike robots being the apex of bio-inspired engineering.

In the process, humanoid robots result in good science. They push the boundaries of biology, cognitive science, and engineering, generating a mountain of scientific publications in many fields related to humanoid robotics, including: computational neuroscience, A.I., speech recognition, compliant grasping and manipulation, cognitive robotics, robotic navigation, perception, and the integration of these amazing technologies within total humanoids. This integrative approach mirrors recent progress in systems biology, and in this way humanoid robotics can be considered a kind of meta-biology. They cross-pollinate among the sciences, and represent a subject of scientific inquiry themselves.…

Looking forward, we can find an additional moral prerogative in building robots in our image. Simply put: if we do not humanize our intelligent machines, then they may eventually be dangerous. To be safe when they “awaken” (by which I mean gain creative, free, adaptive general intelligence), then machines must attain deep understanding and compassion towards people. They must appreciate our values, be our friends, and express their feelings in ways that we can understand. Only if they have humanlike character, can there be cooperation and peace with such machines. It is not too early to prepare for this eventuality. That day when machines become truly smart, it will be too late to ask the machines to suddenly adopt our values. Now is the time to start raising robots to be kind, loving, and giving members of our human family.…

The problem of how to ensure friendly AI is important enough that it seems wise to investigate multiple paths toward that goal. Perhaps improving humanlike robots is one such path.