Mock PR for Massachusetts Institute of Technology's
Artificial Intelligence Lab
As the public relations representative for Massachusetts Institute of Technology's
Artificial Intelligence Lab, I have been posed with the most difficult task.
I have been asked to do an evaluation of your web site and work, as far as it
pertains to how it is being conveyed to the public. Since you are one of the
leading institutes in this field, it is very important that you are portrayed
in the right light and that any future criticism of your work be handled properly.
In this, it means that everyone must be aware of everything- all facts must
be straight and it must be accurate, truthful, and complete.
Therefore, the following pages are to prepare those necessary with information,
overviews, and what to do if it comes a time in which we must defend ourselves
from criticism and opposition. Everybody must read this and make sure that they
After reading this paper I hope that everyone will be clear on what is going
on, how to react if when we face serious opposition, and what stand to take
since you are all representing Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial
WHO'S WHO IN THE AI LAB
We know that there are a lot of people involved with the lab, including students,
but unfortunately we don't know much about them. This is one aspect of our image
that is lacking. However, there are two people that need to be mentioned- Rodney
Brooks and Anne Foerst. Each of these people plays a very influential role in
our image to the outside world.
As you know, Rodney Brooks is the director here at the lab. He is responsible
for "Cog," the robot built in human form except his brain is a laptop
computer. Brooks believes that faith can coexist with science. He says, "from
a scientific point of view, my kids are bags of skin full of molecules interacting,
but that's not how I treat them. I love them. I operate on two completely different
levels, and I manage to live with these two different levels" (Wylie).
This point of view and example of Brooks is crucial to our work because it
makes a link between two major factors that many don't believe are compatible.
This is our problem. The criticism that we get says that these to cannot meld
together. However, he also says that his "ultimate megalomaniacal goal"
is to build a robot "that is indistinguishable from a human- which I won't
do before I die. I admit that" (Wylie). This is also important to us because
it puts those far-fetched scenarios from opposition in place. For nobody can
say that as of yet.
Anne Foerst is our resident theologian here at the lab who is also a research
scientist and ordained minister who holds a doctorate in theology as well as
degrees in computer science and philosophy. Her opinion is that "computer
science, especially artificial intelligence, is THE field for religious inquiry"
Foerst, who makes speeches all around the country, said that one of her most
common replies about artificial intelligence and robots is that people say "those
things can never be like us" (Allis). However, Foerst believes that people
are looking at this in the wrong way. For "they eventually have to admit
that the robots eventually might be like them," (Allis) she says. Most
importantly, thought, Foerst stresses community. In that, for any being community
is important for the development of any beings intelligence. Beings must be
social otherwise there is no room for growth. Therefor, "if humans could
accept the importance of community, we wouldn't be so afraid to merge with machines"
In addition, Foerst mentions many other attributes that must be present in these robots if they are to be recreations of humans. They must have the same foibles, fears, neuroses, ambiguities, knowledge of right and wrong, and the ability to struggle to deal with our flaws (Mangels). Finally, Foerst has made some rather interesting comments about the creators of such beings. One of these is that she thinks that
When you try to rebuild yourself, you get really humble at the complexity of what you are trying to copy. It raises awe for the human system because we are so fantastic. Whenever we are creative, we celebrate God. If we can re-create ourselves as the crown of creation, we celebrate God the most (Mangels).
This is the point to be made to our religious opposition.
As all of you know, the field of Artificial Intelligence is developing more
rapidly everyday. What has been developed in the last few decades has marked
a great advancement in what we, as humans, are capable of creating. However,
not everybody agrees with what is being done. Presently there is both internal
and external criticism and opposition.
The internal criticism we are faced with comes from both within our own institute
and other scientist, scholars, and professionals. Our external criticism comes
from some of the rest of society who is aware of the advancements that are taking
place, more specifically religious groups who feel that not only is it unethical,
but do not acceptable it because of their religious beliefs.
Therefore, as your public relations representative, it is my duty to help you
overcome this. It is my job to make sure that your image, as an institute, is
not impaired in any way. Any institute of our kind that is in the public eye
is destined to have bad things said about them. It is simply inevitable. Therefore,
we must also have a reactive plan as well as making sure that the presentation
of your work to the public is as widely likable as possible.
There are three people I would like to mention in the category of external
criticism- Marvin Minsky, Bill Joy, and Howard Gardner. Each of these men does
not help our mission because they are the opposition we face from within. The
most notable of these is by Marvin Minsky, the MIT professor who co-founded
the Artificial Intelligence Lab in 1959. Although he is does not fully object
to our work, he has been quoted in saying that he does not believe that "studying
theology is compatible with computer science" (Wylie). Since a lot of our
work now focuses on creating artificial beings that are "undistinguishable
from a human," (Wylie) Minsky does not believe that this will be possible
in its entirety.
The basis for his aforementioned statement is that "there is no essence
of the human being. There is no such thing as the soul" (Allis). Minsky
has done extensive research as to what people refer to as the soul. He has found
that there are hundreds of brain centers in a human that constitute the emotions
of the soul. Therefor, he believes that we will be able to replicate these in
robots and such to create a so-called soul, but that otherwise there can be
no other connection.
More criticism has come from Bill Joy who wrote a very over exaggerated article
for Wired magazine in which he foreshadowed the consequences of creating
robots just like us. Joy has background on the subject, he is cofounder and
chief scientist at Sun Microsystems, but he said that "nothing about the
way I got involved with computers suggested to me that I was going to be facing
these kinds of issues" (Allis). These issues being that such artificial
intelligent machines and human/robot hybrids will one day "want to replace
Much of Joy's opinion has no present ground. In fact, his ideas as to what
life is going to be like with such beings sounds more like a "Terminator"
movie than reality. If anything he is scaring the public, not helping them understand.
To put this in perspective, one of Joy's scenarios of the future looks like
The gradual addition of so many robotic parts to our own bodies that we become human/robotic hybrids. Under this scenario, we will gradually replace ourselves with our robotic technology, achieving near immortality by downloading our consciousness. But if we are downloaded into our technology, what are the chances that we will thereafter be ourselves or even human? (Allis).
Joy's futuristic model may not have any foreseeable ground as of yet, but his fears seem quite real. He thinks, "once an intelligent robot exists, it is only a small step to a robot species- to an intelligent robot that can make evolved copies of itself" (Allis).
Minsky, on the other hand, seems unfazed by Joy's image. He believes that one-day
robots might rule the earth. He claims that "we are the chimpanzees of
the future, and intelligent robots are our mind children" (Allis). This
appears to be a complete turn around for Minsky's stand. However, he only said
that the melding of religion, as we know it, into a robot was not possible.
He is on our side for the creation of such beings.
This leads us to Howard Gardner, a Harvard psychologist and Joy ally, who replied
to Minsky's comment about "mind children" with "they're not our
children!" Gardner thinks, "our transitoriness, our reality, is what
in a literal sense gives meaning to our lives" (Allis). He thinks that
we should think long and hard about statements like Joy's because if we are
willing to allow our world to become "devoid of meaning
would then become meaningless" (Allis).
Once again we have a very bold statement. For in reality, how could the world
become utterly meaningless? Who says it's not already? What if what we are creating
is the next step in the evolution of life? What if this is what makes the world
meaningful? What if this is the way it's supposed to be? This brings us to our
This aspect is more my own research than stated facts. Instead of going through
what religious fundamentalists have against our work, I seek to explain their
positions by making comparisons to ours. Basically, are religious fundamentalists
and AI fundamentalists really that different? (Fundamentalism being adherence
to basic principles).
I thought that the easiest way to explain this would be to go through some
commonalties. For example, religious fundamentalists believe in only one God.
Whereas AI fundamentalists, and science in general, believe in only one answer.
In Judaism there are the Ten Commandments of which one is to only believe in
Jehovah. In Christianity there is the Trinity- "The Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit" ("Trinity") of which all three constitute one substance
or being. In Islam there is the belief in Allah, "the God," of which
the saying is "There is no god but Allah" ("God"). So in
actuality, you can see that there isn't much different between the two. Yes,
what is believed is not the same, but both have a strong belief in something.
Another aspect that we could look at is the subject of free will. Obviously,
AI fundamentalists don't believe in free will. However, in Christianity "every
human action is foreordained by God" ("Free Will"). In Roman
Catholicism they have the Doctrine of prevenient grace to explain free will.
This doctrine says "God bestows on individuals the grace to will themselves
into a state of grace" ("Free Will"). In Judaism it is said that
a single God "continues providentially to govern it[the universe]"
("Judaism"). Or we could even look at existentialism. It is said that
they "have recognized the element of spontaneity in the human mind that
is admitted to lie outside and possible scientific law
interpreted to be
free will" ("Free Will"). Science does not leave room for free
will, but religion has a strong emphasis on it. One may wonder how this brings
the two together since they seem to be opposite, but if you look at the deeper
meaning, it is just that the two have different beliefs once again.
However, now we can see that this is another point. The fact that neither has
any regard for others. Religion disregards other faiths and science disregards
other viewpoints. To be more specific, in the most extreme cases of religious
conflict there can be war. A present example of this could be the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. Although the two acknowledge one another, they continue to fight over
religious land because of the belief that one is more belonging, superior, than
the other is. The ideal case for this example would be when one completely wipes
out the other. In terms of science, there is what is called 'folk psychology',
which seeks to reinstate a strict code of practice back into science. This is
obviously a viewpoint disregarded by AI fundamentalists, but what is important
to remember here is that whether it be either group, once the groups are able
to they will seek to silence the voices of their opposition.
Other notes of comparison could be priests and scientists, faith (in God versus emergence), and life came from God versus the algorithm! It could be also be looked at in this light- "Cog" and "Kismet" could be the ones to "help Jews and Christians deepen their understanding of what it means to be created in the image of God" (Lattin).
FIXING THE IMAGE
It seems that most of the criticism comes from the lack of knowledge. This
being that even some of the people within the field are as clueless as those
who are not, as to what is going on. Maybe, in part, this is our fault. To amend
this we must make some changes. Here are some preliminary changes that ought
to be taken:
1. We must make our web site more user friendly.
a. Update periodically.2. We must make more of an effort to communicate with those not involved with the lab.
b. Update "AI Lab News" section monthly.
c. Make the projects in progress more comprehendible to the average person. I.e. make sure that terminology and description is basic or at least clearly defined.
d. Include more about the people working in the AI Lab- as of now there is a lot out there about Rodney Brooks, Anne Foerst, and Sherry Turkle. However, there is little about the students besides short biographies of degrees. Make this aspect more personable.
e. Possibly completely redo the web site by hiring an outside agency in order to make it more easily searchable, neat, and to the point.
a. Possibly hold monthly seminars in which a different person will discuss work in progress with visual aids and such.
b. Send out more press releases to encourage communication (sample one follows).
c. Earn the approval of our opposition- this is easier said than done, but we must start brainstorming on how to make this at least somewhat possible.
d. Try to clarify the conflicting ideas of those within the field- unless we have their complete cooperation we will have no chance in the future. They must be our allies.
Our image is not damaged as of now, it is just severely lacking understanding. We must make it clear that we will continue our work no matter the opposition and that will try to make our work more personable to the outside world. Following is a sample press release that along with the above actions could improve the image of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial Intelligence Lab for the better.
Here is the sample press release to be used and amended upon its inception:
Sample Press Release
For Immediate Release
Contact: S. Needham, (617) 555-5555
MIT AI LAB ANNOUNCES THEY WILL CONTINUE WORK
(Boston, MA)- The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial Intelligence
Lab reports that they will continue their work with artificial intelligence
as they have since 1959.
Having received much scrutiny by both fellow experts and religious fundamentalists, director Rodney Brooks has stated that "there is a new sense of general direction in the MIT AI Lab, and it is different from where AI has been headed during the last twenty years. We are one big family, big enough to disagree on the details, but big enough to have one common direction."
Although the lab expects to receive even more heated debates and criticism, they plan to institute into their WebPages a more friendly way to understand their work. In addition, they plan to make the progress of their work more readily available as to avoid far-fetched scenarios by opposition within the field. This will be achieved by updating their web site regularly, specifically their "AI Lab News" section.
In terms of criticism by religious groups, both MIT and the AI Lab hope to have more communication. Added to their mission will be "Our goal is to make everyone understand and feel included in the advancements of the field of artificial intelligence."
Participants in the AI Lab will be presenting their work every month (dates, times, and locations to follow at a later time) to anyone who wishes to come and join them. There will be information tables, demonstrations, and refreshments. Admission is free. For more information about these events and the AI Lab, visit the web site at www.ai.mit.edu or phone (617) 555-5556.
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Brooks, Rodney. "Message From the Director." Internet. 1 July 2001.
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