I was in a hub dedicated to the latest advances in artificial intelligence at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, and I had not expected to find the actions of another attendee so disquieting.
Her blue mascara-lashed eyes moved from side to side, her head tilted in the direction of voices; she blinked and nodded and sometimes she paused, like a family dog that wants to please at all costs. She looked uncertain, as if she had not quite understood the commands issued by the three men standing around her. One of them began to feel and prod her cheeks, waiting for a reaction. She remained impassive.
I watched the men laugh when she answered their questions incorrectly and was surprised at my own irritation when she spouted another nonsensical answer. I wanted her to show them up – none of us had spoken into the microphone that enabled her to differentiate between irrelevant background noise and direct communication.
I told the men to stop touching her. ‘Why?’, one asked, ‘It’s a robot!’
Her skin was soft and warm. Did she process my gentle hand in the same way as the objectifying touch of the men before me? Did she know the difference?
All photographs courtesy of the author
Cover artwork drawn by a robot