Thursday, March 20, 2014

The forthcoming ramifications of Artificial Humans and Child Custody decisions

20 March 2014

In the realm of child custody policy I am always looking to trends in biology, sociology, psychology, and technology that may affect parenting capacities, opportunities, and behaviours. A few years ago I introduced the concept of electronic communications to the panel of judicial officers that were responsible for writing the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines. Revisions published in 2013 include the electronic communication elements. I now believe that a major evolution in parenting is at our threshold which will significantly affect child custody policy and decisions. This is a further expanse of the advancements in electronics but also a continuing metamorphosis in gender dynamics.

Today I present to you my speculation that the introduction of the Daddy-Bot, Mommy-Bot, and Nanny-Bot will soon be upon us. By this I mean that an artificial intelligence interface implanted into a domestic robot with human like figures will be able to replace parents. While this may only to now have been the subject of movies like 2001, Bladerunner, iRobot, and Artificial Intelligence contend that they will soon be a part of our reality. Domestic robots with human personalities will be available to a high end consumer market. They will likely come about through military development as part of reconnaissance programs and later be adopted into medical settings to provide care to children and adults carrying easily transmitted contagions or who are highly susceptible to infection from lowered immunity or burns and similar trauma.

Robotics and automation are already in use throughout a variety of industrial applications. These technologies offer huge advantages over humans. They are punctual, follow directions, rarely make errors, don't bitch and complain, don't file lawsuits for any number of grievances, easily adapt new technologies, and rarely miss a day of work. Androids are already being used in Japan as interfaces with humans to provide assistance such as those “manning” help desks or as receptionists. As advances in robotics and artificial intelligence progress it is only a matter of time before androids that develop interpersonal relationships with family members start populating our households.

Consider that in December of 2013 at Bologna, Italy The European Conference on AI and Law was presented in conjunction with the workshop Social Intelligence and the Law. Presenters identified that current social intelligence and the law does not focus specifically on the artificial, technical, cultural, economic and political interfaces that the emergence of Web 2.0 and 3.0 fosters and anchors. Promoters further identified that the “aim of this joint Workshop is to discuss how social intelligence approaches can shed a new light on AI and law, legal theory, argumentation, conflict resolution, the semantic web, and normative multi-agent systems. This can be done in all steps of the legal process —drafting, contracting, judging— and all uses of social and legal norms —applying, arguing, implementing and enforcing the law.” They also acknowledged that “there is an ongoing discussion about modeling the evolving concept of law within the new environment of the Internet of Things and the new governance and ethical challenges” - data protection, security, identity etc.[fn1]

Likewise, read this synopsis of a recent workshop on artificial intelligence.
This full-day workshop offers a platform for researchers working on and with emotion representations and modelling for Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) systems. Emotion representations and models are often both modality and discipline specific and hence hardly interoperable. Currently, several solutions on incorporating emotions in HCI systems exist; however, these solutions depend heavily on the scope, application and modalities used. The applied concepts tend to be highly specific and layer dependent, often lacking universality and interoperability. The workshop encourages the discussion of both technical and theoretical approaches to emotion modelling and representations in order to aid in the development of efficient, verifiable, interoperable and applicable emotion models for affective systems.[fn2]

In child custody matters the maternal preference, based upon the tender years doctrine, has been abandoned. It has long been established that it is erroneous to presume that a mother should have custody of her children simply based on the nature of the mother/child relationship.[fn3] However, in most situations a two-adult household is preferred to a single parent household[fn4] although mothers who introduce a series of different men into the household may be found to be unfit.[fn5]

I imagine that a company like Apple will bring domestic androids to the consumer market or at least the “brains” and connectivity features. I envision the “Nanny-Bot” being an android with AI features that develops interpersonal relationships with household members and adapts to any changing dynamics without complication. The eyes function as 3-D cameras which can be directly accessed through a web or iPhone application. The unit's nose would function as a smoke, carbon-monoxide or other airborne hazard detector. It could automatically connect itself to emergency dispatchers who could manually over-ride the unit's functioning and use it to explore the residence for the source of the offending agent. The unit could also act as a security agent, patrolling the house or property while performing domestic chores such as lawn mowing, vacuuming or cooking and alerting household members when an unrecognized person comes into view.

In addition to being a monitoring agent the android could assist in discipline by being an interface between the absent parent and the child. The unit could provide the pre-programmed responses in a manner that is not hostile, abusive or off-base. Their motors will be attenuated to be able to grasp, restrain, lift or otherwise physically interact with a child while not causing injury. It could effectively interpret and respond to the child's emotional expressions and utterances. This technology began being developed in the 1970's and is used by advertisers now. Emotient, a University of California San Diego application, has its algorithm identify joy, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, disgust and contempt. Through built-in webcams it is used to read viewers responses to internet content and advertisements.

When considering whether an android would be deemed an acceptable replacement for the actual parent you may initially reply, “No!” but I want you to think about the realistic possibilities. A Daddy-Bot or Mommy-Bot could be programmed with the responses to a 1000 point questionnaire completed by the absent parent that would help it replicate attitude, beliefs, behaviours, and mannerisms. Further lifelike replication could be enhanced by the android analyzing recordings of the absent parent to fine-tune vocal inflection, tone, and volume while also learning gesticulation and facial expressions.

Additionally, the absent parent could wear a body suit and goggles that would be connected to the android through an internet link. The absent parent would be able to directly manipulate the Daddy-Bot or Mommy-Bot and speak to the child through it using his or her own voice. It could physically interact with the child by giving hugs, helping to assemble building block toys like Legos, and even pushing a child on a swing. Strength limiters on the unit would prevent the user parent from being able to physically harm the child.

There is a dichotomy in motivations in which such a technology could be used which would involve privacy and parenting rights. A non-custodial parent could purchase and use the android as a method to gain greater access to the child. The user parent could be the caretaker when the home parent is absent as well as just assisting with regular daily activities such as homework and being part of dinner table discussions. This technology would be useful for a parent who may be incarcerated or has been restricted to supervised parenting time.

Conversely, the home parent could purchase the unit as a means to facilitate the other parent's parenting time without the child leaving the home. This could be useful in situations where a young child has parents separated by a great distance. As a parent, practitioner, or policy maker ask yourself; is it better to have a child who is under age five years traveling by airplane from the west coast back to Indiana for brief visits or should those be limited to the summer and winter breaks with a Daddy-Bot or Mommy-Bot used as the parenting time interface in-between those breaks.

When this technology becomes common and accessible to the consumer it is going to find it's way into the child custody arena. As you can see it could be very useful and have its greatest benefit when parents are cooperative. It could also be used for parents who have been deemed likely to physically harm the child. However, the user parent could visually inspect the child's residence. This raises the issue of the parent's right to privacy in his or her own home and whether information obtained through the use of the android would be admissible evidence in a contested proceeding. It would also be very difficult for users to ensure consent of third parties who may come into contact with the android, especially if it is used mobile — that is, if it is used outside of the child's home.

The policy considerations for such technologies will by necessity be addressed in statute and court rules. Androids will be providing care to children in homes, day-care centers, and schools. A home with one parent and one android will provide distinct advantages over the home without the android and the supervision that children need. Sitters or other care providers, including the other parent, won't be needed when the parent exercising custody at that time has a meeting or doctor's appointment to attend or just needs to sleep. Instead the child will be left in the competent care of an android. An android who is constantly wired to the internet and can assist the child with homework. All the information available on a topic is accessible by the android who, using some algorithm, isolates the most relevant material and can then transmit to the child using utterances complete with gesticulation and facial expressions and also auditory and visual transmissions.

Balancing the need for a child to have intimate contact with a natural parent against the substantial safety, care and academic advantages offered by synthetic humans will be a major challenge for policy makers and the courts. It is a challenge that the best be prepared to embrace because advancements in technology and the unending hostilities between former spouses will bring it to them.

[1] Special Workshop on Social Intelligence and the Law, jointly with AICOL Artificial Intelligence and Complex Legal Systems
[2] International Workshop on Emotion Representations and Modelling for Human-Computer Interaction Systems.
[3] Brokus v. Brokus, 420 N.E.2d 1242, 1249 (Ind. Ct. App. 1981).
[4] Alan J. Hawkins, Tamara A. Fackrell, Should I Keep Trying to Work it Out? p. 76. Utah Commission on Marriage
[5] In In Re Paternity of P.R., 940 N.E.2d 346 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010), the Court affirmed the trial court's decision to modify custody of the children from Mother to Father. Mother and children had resided with a convicted felon who had been incarcerated for child battery; and Mother had applied for a Protective Order and alleged that she had been threatened by and been the victim of domestic violence by another man she had been dating.

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