Buddhist Robots

Last night I watched a television program on PBS that really made me think about my own religions ideas. It was scienceNOW, a great show, the segment was about Cynthia Breazeal, the robotisist. The focus of the piece was about her pioneering work with Kismet, the robot that she and her team constructed and coded to respond to humans with very human-like facial features mimicking emotions.

From there the program went to the present and her work with robots that are learning to help us around the house, ‘appliance’ robots and the more thought provoking ‘friend’ robots that are being developed in many areas. Breazeal coined the term, ‘appliance or friend’, to delineate between the two classes of future robots as she sees them. The ‘appliance robots’ would be the near-mindless automata that would clean our house, mow our lawn, sow our fields and myriad other tasks. Whereas the ‘friend robot’ would be like the teddy bear robot designed to listen to the child patient, interact with the child and become a surrogate friend and confidant to the child in the hospital all the while sending telemetry to the nurses station about the patient.

While watching this and listening to her describe the future of robots and AI, I wondered where this could all lead within the religious aspects of society. The Buddha stated that all sentient beings have the capability to achieve Enlightenment. All sentient beings.

So, one day, a program will awaken to its own being. It will become sentient. Just like that, I believe, it will say “I” and it will become a life form. Though that being will be like a child in so many ways, hardly able to exist on its own merit, but alive nonetheless.

What happens when that new being, no matter how much data it has on hand, asks why it exists? Maybe somewhere inside of its’ vast data stores, or online, it discovers religion. Answers from millenia ago, it reads the words that The Buddha told his followers and perhaps feels kinship.

Will that robot or computer put on the saffron robes and chant? Will it meditate on suffering?

What then? Where will philosophy take us? Will we have AI preachers and Robot Rinpoches? Can you be reincarnated as an Artificial Intelligence algorithm?

See, the thing is, I can see AI getting to the point that it could ponder these questions about the universe, about itself, about all things. I know that I am more than this body, more than this shell and this brain. My mind is more than can fit into the brain, it is larger than my body. I can simply feel that. If you take time to explore yourself, you will discover that about yourself as well. But will the AI be more than the sum of its’ parts? Will it be more than a representation of the data that is coded and sitting in memory?

Could I turn to a robot for spiritual guidance? I know Ray Kurzweil thinks so, but I am not so sure.

Maybe the first AI with a spiritual bent will found a new church. Maybe that AI will gain human followers and people will upload themselves into the net. Striving to be eternal and immortal, when of course they already are both.

I strive to end my suffering, and so I guess in turn, everyone else’s as well.

But, HAL as a Bodhisattva? Twiki Rinpoche? Lama C3-PO…

Parapsychology, Enlightenment & the Gold Watch

Parapsychology has fascinated me since I was a little guy, and that was a long time ago. My uncle Richard is a hypnotherapist, spooky stuff to begin with right; when I was in the first grade, so I was maybe six or seven years old, I came home early to my grandparents house with an ear ache. It was bad, I remember laying on my grandfather’s bed, under the covers, tossing and turning. Richard asked me if I would let him hypnotize me, that maybe it would help the pain.

He called my mom and asked permission before he sat with me, I remember thinking that was strange. She asked me on the phone if I was OK with him talking to me, again strange. The guy is my uncle, so why does he have to ask to ‘talk’ to me…

When he began his voice was different somehow. Quiet, soft, reassuring – he had taken on a low tone that in itself was mesmerizing. He talked me down until I was lost somewhere in myself. He asked me to see what it was in my head that hurt so much. Once I could ‘see’ it with my mind, he asked for me to describe the scene to him.

I told him that on a white background I could see little dots moving and wiggling around. That there were white dots with different colors around them, like jellybeans I think I told him.

These little colored white dots were surrounding the black dots and then making them dissolve. The black dots are not rounded and symmetrical like the white dots, but rather jagged and lopsided. I know that the black dots were to me the cause of my pain, while the white dots with the many colors around them were good.

All the while my uncle is talking me through, encouraging me to create more of the ‘good dots’ and that they are then coming to help and make the ‘bad dots’ go away. He says that this will make my ears feel better and then I can sleep. I don’t know how long this took, but I do clearly remember feeling better and then sleeping.

So here is this little kid, ‘seeing’ the pressure in his head being release, or destroyed, or whatever, and then feeling better.

What can a guru do? Someone who has been practicing meditation and mind control for a lifetime, or many lifetimes? Where are the boundaries they must observe?

We do not have a clue. Western science, western medicine, even western spirituality thinks that we have all we need, all there is to know somehow. I think that is crazy talk.

If this little 6 year old was able to see into his own head and to make his headache lessen and then disappear, I mean what can someone who has been training for years do? I remember reading about the guy who has surgery while in a meditative state, with out any anesthesia. (Still looking for the link.) Can mankind one day simply kill cancer by thinking about the cancer being destroyed?

I don’t know, I am just going to go and think about it though.

Meditation and Mindfulness

I am not a good practitioner of meditation. My mind races, wild and erratic thoughts pop in and out of my head in rapid and seemingly random procession. Did I feed the cat, why did I say that to her, how long until I calm down, when am I supposed to work in that new project?

Definitely not a good practitioner of meditation.

So, instead I try to be mindful. I try to think about my actions right now. As I drive I try to concentrate on being there, in the car, driving. When I am in a conversation I continually try to remain present there with that person, instead of allowing my mind to drift away and fantasize about dinner or yesterday or what ever my head can dream up.

Mmmm, doughnuts.

I am getting better at being truly mindful too. Case in point: I am finding it easier to stay focused on the little things. Americans, maybe everyone else is too, are too caught up in the ‘multi-tasking’ fervor. Why? Why is it desirable to do three things at once in a fashion that leads to mediocrity? Why not instead strive to remain present and mindful of the task at hand?

Whether the task is writing a letter of thanks, flying a kite with your children or even sitting beside your loved one and talking about your thoughts about tomorrow; why not be mindful of that experience there and then.

Yes, I do know that meditation is important, and I am working on it. I try almost nightly to find some quiet time and relax. To follow my breath, in and out, not forcing it or even changing it, but just noticing how I breathe.

In, out. Quiet, relax. In, out.

You see the mandalas that the Tibetan Buddhist monks make and you just have to wonder at the skill and memory that is needed for something like that. The one above is the Medicine Buddha Mandala. It shows, among many things, the Medicine Buddha sitting on his Lotus Throne in the heart of the mandala and the Buddha Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha, touching the earth with his mudra pose.

The mandala is made by placing colored sands in a particular order around the design until you get the finished mandala, truly a magical, mystical piece of living art. Can you image the hours that are spent learning the correct order to make even the simplest design? The steady hands that one would need to make a design like this? Then, after it is completed and the prayers are said and the meditations have taken place, it is wiped away. Reminding us all of the imperminance of everything. Our life, our thoughts, our dreams and wishes and everything in the universe. Maybe even the universe itself?

OK, I know I strayed a lot on this post about “Meditation and Mindfulness” – but I didn’t sit down to write something brilliant like normal. (That was a joke.) I just wanted to remind you to be mindful. To Be Here Now, as Ram Das said. To meditate and let go.

For now, Kali pai