We all have thoughts of the future. Some of us will only think of it in passing, but others will spend months or even years contemplating the endless possibilities.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s vision for the future, beautifully presented in his latest book, ‘Klara and the Sun,’ shows an excellent level of thought and research. The British novelist presents an emotionally nuanced concept of what it means to be human or non-human.
In this episode of Short and Sweet AI, I discuss Ishiguro’s latest book and its depiction of robots and artificial intelligence. I also delve into what immortality could look like for humans – will it be robots in our future or something different?
Listen to the podcast below or keep reading to learn more.
While I may not be an artificial intelligence expert or a Nobel Prize-winning author like Ishiguro, I’m fascinated by AI and want people to understand what it could mean for our future. With that in mind, I’ve identified three things I think Ishiguro got right and two things I think he got wrong about AI in his new book.
What Ishiguro gets right in ‘Klara and the Sun’
The first thing I think Ishiguro gets right is his depiction of Klara. Klara is an artificial friend, a robot that meshes with my understanding of what robots will look like in the future.
Robots will eventually have the ability to understand and integrate information, and read and understand human emotions. Their ability could even surpass that of the humans around them at times. As robots are more exposed to human situations and observations, they will increase and refine their emotional abilities. This means they’ll actually have feelings, not just the ability to simulate them.
The second thing that Ishiguro gets right is his vision of the future of work.
It’s widely believed that machines will replace humans, and machines will do the majority of the work. As Ishiguro mentions in his novel, people will struggle to redefine their role in society and find new meaning without work.
The third thing I think Ishiguro gets right is when he writes about the inequality created in the future.
In his novel, inequality is created between those who can afford to have gene-edited children. These are described as the “lifted kids,” compared to the “non-lifted kids,” whose parents can’t afford or choose against editing their children’s genes before birth.
I think this is a real possibility in the near future. There will also be major inequalities in wealth, employment, and opportunity, just as Ishiguro depicted in his novel.
What Ishiguro gets wrong
One thing that doesn’t make much sense is that Klara is able to learn and understand her surroundings exceedingly well and yet makes a very wrong conclusion.
The book sees Klara reason that people, like robots, need the sun to sustain, nourish and heal them after she misinterprets something.
However, what’s more likely in the future is that robots will have onboard databases that would have quickly clarified the correct information for Klara. It would have told her that humans die from illnesses, unlike robots. Despite Klara being an advanced robot, this part of the plot just didn’t seem to fit.
Another thing I think was inaccurate was the author’s depiction of immortality in the future. This is a debate that will likely become prominent in the decades to come.
In the novel, Ishiguro depicts immortality achieved through robots. The robots are trained to learn and replicate everything about the person they’re going to replace. Klara has the ability to replace how humans speak, walk, and see the world. She can capture a human’s personality, but Ishiguro highlights that a robot will not be able to capture “the human heart.”
What futurists believe about the future of immortality
Established futurists believe that humans will achieve immortality in the future in a very different way. Rather than relying on robots, using deep learning algorithms to learn and mimic humans, immortality will involve the cloud.
The belief is that we will one day be able to upload our consciousness to the cloud. Experimentation with this has already begun. Brain-computer interfaces already exist, which is something I discussed in my episode on Neuralink.
The complicated fields of synthetic biology, microscopic robots, nanomaterials, and quantum computing are all merging. Some believe it’s inevitable that we’ll be able to connect our neocortex and the totality of who we are to a dedicated computer.
One day we may choose to achieve immortality via upload to a synthetic cloud and be downloaded in the future.
The ethical questions of robot rights
What Ishiguro addresses so eloquently in his novel is what happens to Klara at the end. This is one of the most important parts of the book.
He makes us feel connected to Klara, which kindles ethical questions within us. How we treat, care for, and dispose of robots could be very real ethical considerations for the future.
When a robot truly feels rather than simulates emotion, does that mean the robot should have rights like humans?