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A.I.'-type world is coming soon

07/09/01

I have no fear of artificial intelligence because I know I am real.

And as long as you know you are real, you won't have to worry about it, either.

The movie "A.I." hit theaters recently, causing some to mull a future filled with robots so much like humans that, in some instances, they would take our place.

"That's the goal and idea," said Kevin Dowd, president of Brainhat Corp. (www.brainhat.com), a Connecticut company working on talking computers with intuition and emotion.

In the movie, scientists create a child robot named David that is mass-produced for childless families. This "child" loves its mother, but the mother dumps her child on the side of the road. David heads off on a Pinocchio-like search to become a real boy and win his mother's love.

At brainhat.com, "David" is in the embryonic stage. It has limited discussions about the weather and restaurant menus.

"Does the caller want warm beer?" it says, asking me what I want to drink.

Do you have cold beer?

"Maybe. Brainhat has warm beer."

Spoken like a true waiter. But Dowd said this small give-and-take is laying the groundwork for a computer that can "generate conclusions and ask questions on its own." At first, computers will know only what humans tell them. But later, computers also will learn by observing actions - just like we do.

These robots are still decades away, but artificial intelligence is already here. That's why an IBM supercomputer was able to out-think and defeat former chess champ Gary Kasparov in 1997.

Recently, a psychologist created a Web site (www .eharmony.com) that matches singles by using the principles from the books "Finding the Love of Your Life" and "How to Know if Someone is Worth Pursuing in Two Dates or Less." The program even rejects those deemed unworthy dates.

Are we suddenly less human when our emotions are broken into computer programs? What happens 60 years from now when we have the option of marrying real people or just pairing off with robotic mates who never complain, all the while caring for a techno-child that never cries?

Let it come. Someday, childless people may turn to robots for love like some childless people today use pets. And men and women will seek the comfort of sex-bots - probably at the same rate people today seek human prostitutes.

And the love in those situations will be as genuine as it is with puppies and hookers.

But artificial intelligence will make us better. When you step into a car and say "I'm hot," the car will know whether it's summer and you need the air conditioner, or whether it's winter and the heat is up too high. A car will adjust its settings depending on who is driving.

Dowd said Brainhat's goal is to make computers speak English, eliminating the tech-talk required with dealing with today's computers. How great would it feel to tell your computer, "Hey, you just froze up three times in a row. What's wrong?" and then get a real answer?

"This might make people feel better about their computers," Dowd said. "Suddenly they'll be able to use them.

"But the bad part is [computers] won't be any less mystical," he said. "If you are a technophobe, you might find them scarier when they talk to you."

But we'll cope, because - unlike computers - I believe we can.

Contact personal tech reporter Chris Seper by mail at 1801 Superior Ave., Cleveland, OH 44114; by phone at 216-999-5405; or by e-mail at

cseper@plaind.com.

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