From Enactive to Enlightened AI

© Elena Antonova, Ph.D. (Association Member, Mind & Life Europe)

The Embodied Mind, a book co-authored by Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson and Eleonor Rosch, directly engaged with the field of Artifical Intelligence (AI) and robotics by critiquing a cognitive representationalist model of the mind and presenting an embodied and enactive approach as an alternative. It led to the emergence of the new kind of AI robotics, with the embodied enactive robots learning from the experiences of their interaction with the environment and/or humans, rather than being fully programmed at ‘birth’ by their creator.

So I asked myself: how can contemplative science help stir its development in a healthy direction?

I hesitated to engage with the AI and robotics field for a long time despite close collaborative links with the colleagues working in enactive robotics. Reading too many stories and watching too many movies fed too many images of robots vs humans Armageddon to my mind. Recently I realised the AI is not going to go away, it is here to stay and is developing at a fast pace. So I asked myself: how can contemplative science help stir its development in a healthy direction? An opportunity arose when I was invited to present the insights from contemplative neuroscience at ALIFE 2018 conference in Tokyo last July. In my keynote reviewing Varela’s legacy, I proposed to advance from the enactive to an enlightened AI (the extended abstract can be found in the conference proceedings).

I challenged the AI robotics colleagues to build an Artificial Buddha. Not that I necessarily believe that one could and should be built, but by a way of inviting the AI robotics community to draw from the research in contemplative (neuro)science to mitigate against AI risks. At dinner on the day of my keynote, I was seated next to Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, a Japanese scientist and robotics engineer famous in Japan for having built an android in his own image. Hiroshi shared with me that he was building a Bodhisattva in collaboration with Kodaiji temple in Kyoto. Here is the fruit of this collaboration – the Android Kannon (Skt. Avalokiteśvara) reciting the Heart Sutra as an inspiration of unconditional compassion towards all beings.

It is certainly far from an Artificial Buddha, but perhaps this is the first step in preventing the AI Armageddon.

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