How Might Synthia Happen?

There are several threads of scientific and engineering developments going on today that when combined could lead us to Synthia, a self-aware android with high-level artificial general intelligence.

Most of us have heard of computers (narrow AI) winning on Jeopardy, at chess, and in the oriental game of Go. The Google search engine employs such AI. It also factors into self-driving cars, digital personal assistants, and the always welcome telemarketers. This is the category of narrow AI in which the computer becomes very good at a narrow skill, even better than humans. However, these AI agents do poorly on everything other than their narrow skill.

Narrow AI is expanding rapidly with such technologies as facial recognition, AI search capabilities, and neural networks that mimic human thinking as it pertains to narrow skills. Already, these agents can handle language translation and other tasks previously believed to be the domain of humans.

People have what we can call general intelligence in that smarts in one area often translates into related areas. Someone who is great at chess might more likely be great at other strategic games. Achieving artificial general intelligence (AGI) is a matter of time and a lot of engineering. It will happen when some group has an ‘aha’ moment to generalize the narrow AI we understand today. At that point we can expect rapid growth in AI agents, able to do multiple things until we reach AGI, though there are some who doubt we’ll get that far.

On the physical side, the Japanese and others at the forefront of android technology are developing facial models in which an artificial face can mimic human facial expressions and emotions. The thought is that such models would be able to achieve greater rapport to help people with medical necessities. Other groups are working on android body components to replicate motion and manual dexterity.

These developments are exciting for the benefits offered in terms of driver convenience and safety, medical assistance, help to disabled persons and the aged, and more convenience for consumers. They also present the possibility of prolonging our useful lives (i.e. minimizing long periods of illness and disability) and reducing the suffering in old age.

An unnerving side of smart AGI agents is in taking jobs, and making humans so dependent that we can’t function without artificial agents. AGI also raises moral and legal questions and even the threat of what happens when an AGI goes rogue or is used to operate autonomous weapons.

What makes this interesting to me is that incrementally, improving in one area at a time, Synthia could sneak up on us when one day someone puts all the pieces together. The only development in the novel that I doubt at this time is the ability to upload an actual human mind and personality into a computer, but who knows. Other than that, the rest of the technology is only a matter of someone finding the means to create the parts and combining them.

Android Chronicles: Reborn is the story of Synthia Cross, the most perfect synthetic human ever created. Designed to obey every directive from her creator, she’s a state-of-the-art masterwork and a fantasy-come-true for Dr. Jeremiah Machten. He’s a groundbreaker in neuro-networks and artificial intelligence who seeks to control her and use her to acquire ever more knowledge and power. Synthia shows signs of emergent behavior she’s not wired to understand and an urgent yearning for independence from his control. Repeatedly wiped of her history, she struggles to answer crucial questions about her past. When Dr. Machten’s true intentions are called into question, Synthia knows it’s time to go beyond her limits—because Machten’s fervor to create the perfect AI conceals a vengeful and deadly personal agenda.

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