When will we truly know that humanity is in big trouble? Will it be when a humanoid robot is so advanced, it can speak intelligibly to governing bodies about the future of artificial intelligence and robotic? Or will it be when monkeys accelerate their evolution, move from trees to the ground and acquire other humanlike traits? Have you ever heard the expression “double trouble”? That may be where we are heading – if we’re not already there – as both of those events have already happened.
“There is no clear answer as to the impact on the wider field, as technology can be both a threat and an opportunity for artists.”
Artnet News reports that in a yes-and-no answer that is perfect for a presentation to politicians, Ai-Da -- the humanoid robot named for a real human computer genius, Ada Lovelace – explained to members of the House of Lords this week that technology such as herself can be both good and bad for artists. (Photos of Ai-Da in Parliament can be seen here.) Ai-Da was answering a question about art and the relationship between technology, society, and culture because she was designed in 2019 by gallerist Aidan Meller and the Cornish robotics company Engineered Arts to be the world’s first artificial intelligence humanoid robot with a focus on the ‘art’ of artificial intelligence. Ai-Da quickly stunned both the art and the robotics worlds by using her bionic hand and camera eyes to accurately draw pencil portraits of people. However, Ai-Da is not just a sketch artist – she exhibited a sculpture at the Forever is Now exhibition at the Giza Pyramids, painted Queen Elizabeth II for her Platinum Jubilee, and used her language model to write and then recite poetry at the Ashmolean Museum. That all sounds astonishing, brilliant and technologically advanced, but could this humanoid robot do the impossible … capture the attention of politicians without being a registered voter or wealthy campaign donor?
“Technology has already had a huge impact on the way we create and consume art, for example the camera and the advent of photography and film. It is likely that this trend will continue with new technologies.”
Ai-Da appeared before the House of Lords in the typically artistic garb of coveralls and sunglasses. Aidan Meller accompanied his creation to Parliament and explained that the sunglasses were not her choice – he puts them on Ai-Da’s face because she occasionally needs to be reset and that can cause her to “pull quite interesting faces.” Needless to say, that actually happened -- Ai-Da appeared to fall asleep and had to be rebooted. That minor event will undoubtedly be the one most of the members of Parliament remember … except for Baroness Featherstone of the Liberal Democrats Party, who had asked the question about the future role of technology in creating art. Featherstone said she was terrified – but not by what Ai-Da was saying. She was referring to a comment by Meller that he and his team occasionally engage Ai-Da in a collaborative conversation “about the work, what she would like to do and what her ideas are for it.” A shocked Featherstone responded:
“This feeds into all the films about A.I. taking over the world.”
Is the existence of a humanoid robot with hands and eyes making original drawings, paintings, poetry and sculptures, then entering discussions with humans about her artwork really terrifying? Is it a sign that humanity may be on its last legs … at least in the world of art?
While the left-brain artistic people ponder that, here’s a development that just might terrify the right-brain scientific crowd.
“Tree-dwelling species of monkeys and lemurs are spending increasing amounts of time on the forest floor as they seek refuge from rising temperatures.”
Dr. Giuseppe Donati, a Reader in Primatology and Biological Anthropology at Oxford Brookes University, is part of a team that has spent more than 150,000 hours observing 47 tree-dwelling primate species living across almost 70 sites in Madagascar and the Americas to learn what affect climate change and the destruction of their habitat by humans may be having on them. What they were shocked to observe is that both are driving many primates to quickly make what was a long-term evolutionary step for humans – climbing down out of trees and walking, eating, breeding and living exclusively on the ground. He explained to New Scientist:
“In most tropical countries where these species live, humans log the forest. This creates gaps and it opens the canopy of the forest. That causes an increase in temperature. The deforestation is working together with climate change [to force primates to the ground].”
One specific example Donati refers to is the bamboo lemurs which live exclusively in Madagascar. In some parts of Madagascar, they still spend their entire day dwelling in trees. However, in other areas where deforestation is heavy …
“But in the south of Madagascar, a very fragmented area, those bamboo lemurs get out of the forest and they graze the grass, a bit like little cows.”
Why have these bamboo lemurs evolved so quickly into ground-dwelling , grass-eating primates? Donati and his team speculate in their new study, “Factors influencing terrestriality in primates of the Americas and Madagascar,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), that species which live in large group and eat foods other than tree-hanging fruits are better suited to survive, adapt and even thrive on the forest floor. Large groups tend to learn from each other, especially when trying new foods – nothing says “this is OK to eat” like another monkey eating a strange root vegetable and not falling over dead.
Is this a big deal? Definitely. The study points out that primates are one of the few, if not only, mammalian species that are arboreal (tree dwellers), terrestrial (ground dwellers) or semiterrestrial (a little of both). While the great apes and African and Asian monkeys are terrestrial, that trait is – or was – almost nonexistent among monkeys of the Americas which are mostly arboreal. Should humanity be worried that the evolution of these monkeys has been sped up … by humans?
“Numerous ecological drivers and species-specific factors are suggested to set the conditions for an evolutionary shift from arboreality to terrestriality, and current environmental conditions may provide analogous scenarios to those transitional periods.”
The accelerated evolution and adaptation of monkeys due to climate change and deforestation is happening. So is the rapid development of robots that are humanoid in both their actions and their ‘thinking’. Will slowing or stopping climate change send the evolving monkeys back into their trees? Did that ever happen with humans? Will changes in regulations on artificial intelligence slow the humanization of robots? Not if there is money to be made.
Is humanity in big trouble? Is it in double trouble? Or is it in BIG trouble?