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Peace and Tech: Part 3
The Robots of Hephaestus -
A metaphor for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics
  • Humanity has unlocked five technological powers that people in the ancient world seemed to think only gods could possess.
  • For humanity to make sustainable progress toward peace, justice, survival, and prosperity in the twenty-first century, our five god-like technological powers must be recognized as critically important peace issues.
  • Metaphors from Greek Mythology show how the ongoing escalation of these technological powers requires an even greater escalation of our Peace Literacy.

Nemesis

Messenger of Justice, Dispenser of Dues

In Greek mythology, Hephaestus is the god of fire. Ancient Greek writers used his name as a synonym for fire. Hephaestus is also a god of technology, including blacksmithing and all other forms of metalworking, as well as stonemasonry and crafts. In this image, Hephaestus is activating a robot. Why a robot? The Iliad is nearly three-thousand years old, and Hephaestus has robots in the Iliad.

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Hephaestus

In the following excerpt from the Iliad, Hephaestus is working at his forge. When he steps away from his forge, his robot servants attend to him. These robots are made of gold and resemble women:

 

"Hephaestus left his forge and hobbled on. Handmaids ran to attend their master, all cast in gold but a match for living, breathing girls. Intelligence fills their hearts, voice and strength their frames, from the deathless gods they’ve learned their works of hand. They rushed to support their lord as he went bustling on.”

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Hephaestus has other robots. These robots are cauldrons that move on their own by rolling on wheels, similar to robot vacuum cleaners and self-driving cars. When Thetis, mother of Achilles, visits Hephaestus in his workspace, she sees these self-rolling cauldrons. She finds Hephaestus:

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"pressing the work on twenty, three-legged cauldrons, an array to ring the walls inside his mansion. He’d bolted golden wheels to the legs of each so all on their own speed, at a nod from him, they could roll to halls where the gods convene then roll right home again—a marvel to behold.”

In the Odyssey, also written nearly three thousand years ago, King Aklinoös is protected by robot dogs created by Hephaestus.  As depicted in the Odyssey, the robot dogs were "made out of gold and silver ... fashioned by Hephaestus in his craftsmanship and cunning.” If people in ancient Greece could see the robot dogs currently being made by Boston Dynamics, they would probably think that these robots are creations of Hephaestus.

VIDEO OF BOSTON DYNAMICS ROBOT DOGS

If people in ancient Greece could see the other robots that humans have created today (and the far more advanced robots that humans will create in the coming years), they would probably think that we possess the god-like power of Hephaestus.

VIDEO OF BOSTON DYNAMICS DANCING ROBOTS

The god-like power of Hephaestus symbolizes the distinct fields of AI and robotics, and the ways in which they overlap. Hephaestus as a god of technology symbolizes a form of metis —an ancient Greek word meaning intelligence, discernment, or cleverness. Describing AI models like GPT as "machine metis" can help us more deeply explore their nuances, consequences, and relationship to the human condition.

This video titled "Slaughterbots" depicts a possible future where our use of the god-like technological power of Hephaestus continues to outpace our Peace Literacy.

As our AI and robotics technologies continue to escalate, we must escalate our Peace Literacy in even greater measure so that we can use the god-like power of Hephaestus responsibly.

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In the 2020s and beyond, the god-like technological powers of Zeus, Hypnos, and Hephaestus will increasingly overlap. For example, AI will be able to drive the behavior of virtual humans and generate virtual worlds, while VR/AR will allow people to project realistic human faces, skin textures, and expressions onto robots, which can make these robots indistinguishable from humans in appearance, or more expressive and vibrant in appearance than humans. This video shows how robots are becoming increasingly expressive, even without the help of VR/AR.

Powerful AI systems are needed to enable the underlying capabilities of powerful VR/AR devices, and VR/AR devices will be needed to enable numerous capabilities of AI assistants. We can imagine these technologies collaborating, similar to the collaborations between the Greek deities—Hephaestus made a number of items for various deities, and Hypnos helped other deities achieve their goals. The AI power symbolized by Hephaestus will help unlock the full potential of VR/AR, while the VR/AR power symbolized by Hypnos will help unlock the full potential of AI.

 

The Peace Literacy Institute is working to create a Peace Literacy Metaverse, that will use VR, AR, and AI to accelerate and scale up the learning of Peace Literacy. The Peace Literacy Metaverse will explore these technological powers in much more detail, providing a deeper understanding of how they overlap, the related ethical challenges, and our responsibilities as human beings. The Peace Literacy Metaverse is a new kind of universe that will transform the classroom into an epic journey, comprised of vast worlds and allegorical landscapes, that increase student engagement, accessibility, and the capacity to internalize, apply, and retain Peace Literacy skills.

© 2021 Paul K. Chappell

The Garden of Strong Community: An Allegory and Pictorial

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