Cowboys and neurons: HBO’s Westworld asks tough questions about artificial intelligence

The television show presents a wild, wild West for the digital age. Westworld is a theme park where the Old West characters are not actors but life-like robots. The disturbing arc the show's seasons take bring up questions about non-carbon-based life forms, the kind that have intrigued humankind and populated pop culture since the ancient Greeks.

When considering the real-world application of artificial intelligence, Jason Moore of Penn’s Institute for Biomedical Informatics looks to the Turing Test as a marker for considering AI capabilities. Following that, humans will have to factor a set of ethics and rights for AI to adhere. Moore points to a revised version of Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, updated for a more cooperative relationship between humans and intelligent machines. For example, “A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law” would be updated to “A robot must respond to humans as appropriate for their roles.” 

The cooperative, arguably more egalitarian relationship reflects the relevance AI already has on modern culture, from automated jobs to complex computing, and considers the ethical response a human should adopt to an intelligent machine. In theory, at least.

“I think more about the ethics of how AI will impact humans rather than the impact of humans on AI,” Moore says. “I don’t think much about the effect of humans on AI because I think it will be decades before humans create a real AI that is conscious. Certainly not in my lifetime.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.