Dr. Joanne Pransky calls herself a Robot Psychiatrist. Raising an eyebrow or feeling the beginnings of a smirk? Good, that’s the point – it’s been her tongue-in-cheek way of calling attention to what she sees as the inevitable reality that humans will eventually need to interact with robots, intellectually and emotionally.
She has been championing awareness since the 1980s and has playfully worked to keep the reality of robots in the public eye, from appearing on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno to the Discovery Channel and a host of other media outlets.
Distinguishing Fact from Fiction
The media’s perspective on robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) seems to lean on the optimistic at times, then just as suddenly swings to the negative end of the spectrum. In this polarized world, I asked Joanne in a recent interview if there is anything that she likes about the way media portrays AI. “I like an accurate depiction and thought-provoking discussion…I’ve spent a lot of time bashing negative headlines, for example ‘robot kills human’, when actually the human killed itself by not following safety standards”, she remarks.
Dr. Pranksy believes that the main problem with robotics in the United States has to do with a mostly uninformed public facing a surge of new publicity in the industry. “Humans are ignorant at the moment,” she comments. It’s almost a fact that people too often believe everything that they read without considering multiple contexts, and in much of the main media landscape it’s safe to say many walk away with a negative depiction of the future of robotics. The way to lead people down the right path, says Joanne, is for the media to publicize robotics in a way that promotes balanced facts alongside potential future outcomes and promotes thoughtful debate.
For the past 30 years, Dr. Pranksy has tried to show robots to masses. “If a picture is worth a million words, a video is worth a billion,” she remarks. This includes not just a staged robot that is either all good or all bad, but also a robot that is “growing” out of its failures. She mentions Boston Dynamics’ ‘BigDog’ project and notes that when someone is kicking the quadraped robot on film, the media might just as easily lash out at the human “abusing the robot”. Unless well-informed, few people take enough time to consider that this is what the robot is designed to do, to be subjected to the elements, and that scientists want to find its weaknesses in order to make it more successful.