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    Buddha’s 2,600th enlightenment day, A robot blesses the masses ?
    Project: Polytopia
    The Atlantic had the past week a fascinating collection of robot images. One stood out particularly.




    (image: A robot sits before Buddhist monks, as they pray during a mass alms-offering ceremony at King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang in Bangkok, on June 19, 2012. The ceremony was held to mark the 2,600th anniversary of the enlightenment of Lord Buddha. (Reuters/Sukree Sukplang) # ) see the full collection at The Atlantic- Robots at work and play.

    Of course James Bridle was quick to post it on his New Aesthetic Tumblr blog, the question of course is what was this Robot doing there? And is it a representation of the New Aesthetic?

    Try as much as I did I could not find an explanation for the presence of this Robot, at the alms offering ceremony.
    Was it a symbol of the achievements of the King Mongkut's Institute of Technology? Was it an emblem signifying the future of the Buddha? Of Buddhism itself? Or maybe it was just a reminder that the future of our spiritual attainments will be embodied in robotic like hardware.
    Maybe it is a precursor to the ‘Way of the Robot’?
    (See here: Robot Buddha introduces the Four Noble truths and the ego's role in our own suffering (video)

    What makes this image so compelling to my eyes is its naturalness, its casualness, its immediacy, as if there is nothing more daily, relaxed and obvious than to have a robot at a Buddha anniversary.
    Be that as it may, I do not think this image represents a New Aesthetic statement of any kind, however maybe it is just a glitch, an error really, that makes us eventually smarter and quicker to learn as demonstrated by “Shizuko Matsuzoe and Fumihide Tanaka at the University of Tsukuba, Japan, who set up an experiment to find out how different levels of competence in a robot teacher affected children's success in learning English words for shapes”. (NewScientist)

    Assuming the tremendous advances in computing power and robotics continue unhindered for the foreseeable future, what would it feel like to have a real Buddha teacher robot?
    Furthermore, assuming that we can create a robot Buddha, having all the characteristics and features of that which is considered an enlightened state amongst those that think about such things, will we accept its authority?
    Strange questions indeed, and yet strange as these issues might seem presently, I do believe they pose an interesting challenge to our sense of aesthetics and our sense of the perennial.

    The image of the robot and the praying alms-offering pilgrims, monks and nuns around it, is to a certain extent more disturbing because it appears so natural, so, in its correct place.

    It makes sense.

    "I believe robots have the buddha-nature within them—that is, the potential for attaining buddhahood,"


    This quote from the book : The Buddha in the Robot: a Robot Engineer's Thoughts on Science and Religion by Masahiro Mori (森 政弘) (a Japanese roboticist noted for his pioneering work on the emotional response of humans to non-human entities, as well as for his views on religion and robots. The ASIMO robot was designed by one of Masahiro's students).

    I made a small non-scientific experiment; I have shown this image to a few people asking what they think is seen in the picture. Surprisingly enough not one of the persons involved raised any questions concerning the Robot. One asked an interesting question however:” how long before I can have my own personal Buddha robot teacher?”

    I am uncertain as to the realism involved in having a Buddha Robot teacher, though truth to tell I could find no argument against it (no argument that holds water that is).
    In trying to clarify the issue at hand I find myself wondering about the propositions that might be entailed by such a new reality, a reality where robot Buddhas perform rituals and teachings.

    Think about it for a moment, what would happen if in conjunction with having huge armies of drones busy performing acts of surveillance and outright violence, a concomitant army of Buddha teachers performing acts of compassion and benevolence is deployed in the world?


    Let me know what you think.


    Thu, Oct 25, 2012  Permanent link
    Categories: Robots,Robotics,Buddha,Enlightenment,
    Sent to project: Polytopia
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    Spaceweaver     Fri, Oct 26, 2012  Permanent link
    Fascinating! I took a moment to consider the speculative prospects of designing a Buddha teacher applying understandings that are part of the Buddhist discourse and its philosophical foundations. So here is a short list:

    1. Basically it seems easier to design a Buddha robot than to deliver a human being from the realm of suffering and into a Buddha state. The reason is that robots can be designed not to carry Karma. Here is a short explanation: according to Buddhist discourse the roots of suffering are ignorance regarding two aspects of existence: impermanence and conditioned arisal, or, in other words, non-inherent existence. A cybernetic entity can be conceived and designed in a manner that it acts and interacts but does not hold a concept of itself being the source of these actions and interactions. Such cybernetic entity will not be bound to suffer the consequences of its own actions because it will only perceive situations and respond to them transparently without relating to itself as an actor or recipient of action. In short it will be free from suffering in the Buddhist sense.

    2. A cybernetic entity thus designed will not have a concept of permanence regarding itself or any other entity. It will accept any change and respond to it spontaneously never remembering itself as the source or end point of any interaction or change. Moreover, it will only perceive chains of actions and reactions, cause and effect but without ever being part of such a chain. Again, it is a mark of the liberated Buddha state.

    3. Such entity might, for the convenience of other sentient beings interacting with it, describe itself as the agent/subject of its own actions, yet such descriptions will be only figures of speech never reflecting a subjective state of affairs because there will be no subject that carries such a state.

    4. A problem might arise from an engineering point of view because lacking any sense or concept of self and self will, functions such as self-repair, self-preservation and self-augmentation will be difficult to implement as autonomous functions. The robot might be able to indicate various states of malfunction in a manner that will be read as such by other agents, but these will have no consequence or meaning in the framework of its own conceptual system and the entailed simulation of mental states it may be producing. These will be just numbers or literal gestures that (for itself) signify nothing. As a result, it might be difficult to design such a robot as a fully autonomous system but perhaps some ingenious methods can be applied here...

    5. An interesting question has to do with the teaching function. In various versions of the 'perfection of wisdom' which is the highest Buddhist discourse having to do with the Buddha state and emptiness, it is stated that though the Buddha presents a path to liberation, also this presentation carries no consequence (such as delivering others from suffering). So, the actions that seem to sentient beings as teachings leading to liberation are just 'non-actions' or 'even 'beyond action and non-action' as far as the Buddha is concerned. Furthermore, this will be a robotic entity designed with no purpose or directive of any kind but 'no purpose' here is tricky because it does not mean just random activity; it means something much deeper than that: something that goes beyond the duality of purposefulness or non-purposefulness... Not simple (see point 8).

    6. So far so good. But the question that comes to mind is whether the Buddha robot teacher needs to be sentient, or know what is sentience and be able to re-cognize sentience in other agents. Indeed it is paradoxical because the act of recognition requires cognition in the first place and in the case of sentience it requires cognition of sentience applied to one's own agency (others are excluded of course in this case). Such cognition, however, if implemented, would amount to installing an illusory precept within a perfect Buddha state...Indeed the Buddha just before becoming a Buddha was sentient, but nowhere in the texts it is explicit that he remained sentient after his enlightenment, or, that the Buddha state is a state of a sentient being, or that sentience is inherent in the pure state of enlightenment. We can safely assume that our robot Buddha can do without sentience but...

    7. This is of course extremely interesting especially when it comes to the question of compassion. Compassion seems to be the only viable motive that arise spontaneously from the Buddha state (though there is some debate on that as well because compassion is attributed to the Buddha only by others. the Buddha never attributed to itself anything but his pure Buddha state) Does a Buddha teacher need a motive such as compassion? Does a Buddha teacher need to be familiar with a concept of suffering as it is experienced by other sentient beings? Does our robot need to be emphatic? Because if it does not hold a concept of suffering (as indeed befitting a Buddha) and is not emphatic (just playing the theater of being emphatic and sensitive to the suffering of others) there is no place whatsoever to compassion other than the figurative expression of compassion, i.e. empty gestures that mean nothing to their actor. To summarize this point, it seems that a cybernetic entity can be designed to simulate without self-reflection the expression of compassion, or, more accurately expressions that would be attributed as compassion by others and therefore a seemingly motivated teaching functions can be installed. However, we will be left with the question of the designer. It would seem that the designer(s) of such robotic entity will need to entirely and completely disassociate in their own minds any concept of being actors or receivers of the consequences of their actions in order to realize the said design. Which brings us to the next point.

    8. Wouldn't it be correct to assume that the designers of such cybernetic Buddha-teacher entity must themselves exist (figuratively so...) in a fully realized enlightened and flourishing Buddha state? As such, and leaving aside for a moment the question of their own sentience at the time of implementing such a design how can they possibly apply themselves to the continuity required to accomplish such a design? How can they apply themselves to design at all? How can they have a concept of perfecting their design being built bottom-up from imperfect subsystems none of which alone could partake in the perfection of the final product? The only viable answer (not considering thaumaturgy of course) is that some kind of emergence needs to be involved which may solve many of the design issues.

    9. But than it immediately invokes another deep question: every emergence can be understood in terms of self-organization which means it is the outcome of a reduction of the degrees of freedom of the self-organizing system. But this implies of course that there is, in fact, a state more free than the Buddha state... only that it cannot be reached but only by its own reduction. This speculation will certainly be frowned at by those who consider the Buddha state as supremely and purely perfect... If we reject emergence on the grounds that it philosophically unacceptable, we are left with no viable option...

    10. Unless of course we will conclude that such design of a Buddha teacher is possible but only with certain flaws imperfections and incompleteness... At least till the 'New Buddha' version that will shortly follow. Shall we brand it already as Maitreya?

    Hope you enjoy it Wildcat :-)

    gamma     Tue, Oct 30, 2012  Permanent link
    Well, the inanimate become more lively kind of, when we are becoming more conscious, so the robot could be of some interest, but the robot does not project to our mind directly and the thing is still metallic.
    Wildcat     Fri, Nov 2, 2012  Permanent link
    Great comments Spaceweaver, thanks, and lots to discuss here, I will therefore for brevity sake try and reply to those comments in a continuous fashion, and will publish them consecutively. (Though admittedly they deserve an independent post)


    Responses inserted in text

    S: "1. Basically it seems easier to design a Buddha robot than to deliver a human being from the realm of suffering and into a Buddha state. "

    W: bah! That would be the great conundrum of all teachings.. ☺ yes!

    S: The reason is that robots can be designed not to carry Karma. Here is a short explanation: according to Buddhist discourse the roots of suffering are ignorance regarding two aspects of existence: impermanence and conditioned arisal, or, in other words, non-inherent existence. A cybernetic entity can be conceived and designed in a manner that it acts and interacts but does not hold a concept of itself being the source of these actions and interactions. Such cybernetic entity will not be bound to suffer the consequences of its own actions because it will only perceive situations and respond to them transparently without relating to itself as an actor or recipient of action. In short it will be free from suffering in the Buddhist sense.

    W: Not sure how you can allow for a Cybernetic Entity that acts and reacts and yet carries no sense of itself as source. Even if we allow for something akin to Asimov rules of robotics (I refer specifically to the ‘do no harm to humans rule’), some kind of inner reflectivity need be present, whether it might be called a knowledge of self is a different issue, that of course will depend not only on the definition of cognitive structures but also on the level of sensitivity to degrees of separation between said cybernetic organism and other. That is an interesting prospect I’ll give you that, for it might very well be that what we will be getting is a reactive machine that does not suffer (in the Buddhist sense) but then it will per definition not be able to perform acts of empathy, which of course will destroy the whole experiment. So there is here a kind of conflict, no suffering, no empathy, no karma, but no Buddha as well!
    At least not in the common understanding of the word, however it might very well be that the very kind of analysis we are performing here is a kind of roadmap to a new kind of Buddha.
    A Cyber Buddha!
    Come to think of it, it appears that this may be exactly what we need. A roadmap that will allow for a different kind of actualization than the one based on our old concepts of self and other, inserting the relatively new sciences of complexity and cybernetics, into the ascending paths of evolving minds.

    S:" 2. A cybernetic entity thus designed will not have a concept of permanence regarding itself or any other entity. It will accept any change and respond to it spontaneously never remembering itself as the source or end point of any interaction or change. Moreover, it will only perceive chains of actions and reactions, cause and effect but without ever being part of such a chain. Again, it is a mark of the liberated Buddha state."

    W : that I believe is the main point in designing such a CE (cybernetic entity) and the crux of what I was driving at. Designing a CE with qualities of a Buddha embedded, as conditions is therefore definitely a viable (and desirable?) possibility. However again we need turn to the issue of empathy: can an entity with no sense of the permanent in any fashion relate to a mind that carries its impermanence on its sleeve? (Humans in this case) I think that is an issue concerning cognition and reflectivity that has no clear answer as of yet. Nevertheless, that is an interesting proposition save the issue of not being part of the causative chain. Assuming we indeed need that Buddha robot to perform the acts of a teacher as portrayed by the commonly accepted dharma its capacity will be hindered by its not having the concept of permanence. (Seems to me that what will get is more similar to Watson’. )

    S:" 3. Such entity might, for the convenience of other sentient beings interacting with it, describe itself as the agent/subject of its own actions, yet such descriptions will be only figures of speech never reflecting a subjective state of affairs because there will be no subject that carries such a state.

    W: True! But then in what sense will it be able to be perceived as carrying acts of intersubjective cognition (i.e. understanding the ‘other’)

    S: "4. A problem might arise from an engineering point of view because lacking any sense or concept of self and self will, functions such as self-repair, self-preservation and self-augmentation will be difficult to implement as autonomous functions. The robot might be able to indicate various states of malfunction in a manner that will be read as such by other agents, but these will have no consequence or meaning in the framework of its own conceptual system and the entailed simulation of mental states it may be producing. These will be just numbers or literal gestures that (for itself) signify nothing. As a result, it might be difficult to design such a robot as a fully autonomous system but perhaps some ingenious methods can be applied here..."

    W: good point indeed. One answer to this issue might be: swarm intelligence and division of functional activity according to contextual hierarchy therefore allowing for a particular instance of the Robot Buddha to be ‘free’ of these functions whilst other instances take care of it, changing functions as conditions permit. The more I think about this particular issue it appears that the main meaning implication here is that thee cannot be only one CE robot Buddha but the very concept must start from the beginning as a swarm or collective. (hence per definition only many Buddha robots can do the trick)

    will be continued..
     
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