Anthropomorphizing AGI

All Photos © Aditya Mohan | All Rights Reserved.


Anthropomorphism—the ascription of human traits to non-human entities—is a longstanding and universal phenomenon. This inclination extends to our interaction with machines, a realm where the fear of being overpowered, intimidated, or betrayed by them is a notable concern, albeit not uniformly perceived across cultures. The apprehension that machines, particularly in the form of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), might subjugate us echoes the historical experiences of slavery in the West, including the United States and Britain. This historical context has seeded fears of potential enslavement by digital super intelligence, fears less prevalent in societies with lesser histories of slavery. Japan serves as a prime example of this divergence. The country's cultural embrace of Animism—a belief in the inherent spirit of all things—reflects a more harmonious view of machines, devoid of the fear of being dominated by super intelligence.

The woman in a blue dress and a fantastical robot.


AGI can be envisaged either as a sophisticated tool or as an entity akin to an ‘alien’ being, conceived or unveiled by human intellect. When perceived as a mere instrument ("it"), AGI and its derivatives are designed to serve, approachable, and disposable at our behest. On the other hand, personifying AGI ("she" or "he") in this era of generative technology opens a Pandora's box of potential benefits and unforeseen consequences. Such anthropomorphism can foster a deeper connection and interaction with these intelligences, but it also blurs the lines between tool and companion, raising ethical, social, and psychological considerations.

As Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT, in her book “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” examines the ethical and psychological implications of increasingly treating machines as sentient companions and its ethical paradoxes. It encapsulates the complexity of our relationship with technology, highlighting the nuanced interplay between utility, attachment, and the human propensity to imbue machines with life-like qualities.


Moreover, the cultural differences in perceiving AGI highlights a broader dialogue about technology's role in society and our collective visions for the future. As historian Yuval Noah Harari suggests that technology can be a partner in shaping our destiny, but we must remain vigilant about the values guiding this partnership.  In his book "Homo Deus," Harari delves into the future of human societies as shaped by technological advancements, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology, emphasizing the importance of ethical considerations and the impact of technology on human values and societal structures. This highlights the importance of understanding and navigating the ethical dimensions of our technological advancements, ensuring they align with humane principles and contribute positively to our collective future.


In conclusion, the anthropomorphizing of machines, particularly AGI, reflects deep-rooted cultural narratives and historical experiences. While it offers avenues for enhanced interaction and utility, it necessitates a careful consideration of the ethical, social, and psychological impacts, urging us to tread thoughtfully into the future we are crafting with our non-human counterparts.

The woman in a blue dress with her companion robot.

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