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As his name, so is he. The Talmud expresses a scientific sentiment many prominent empiricists believe to be true. It appears that Jewish law scholars understood a psychological notion thousands of years before psychology. Almost against his will, psychologist Lewis Lipsitt, of Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, came to believe that nomenclature is destiny. If artificial intelligence is an attempt by mankind to create a better species in its own image, then perhaps the same will hold true of robots, and other automated self functioning forms of AI. A person’s name, or a robot's designation, will influence his, her, or its chosen profession.
Harry Smiley, for instance, turned out to be an orthodontist, and G.A. Martini now studies the effects of alcohol on the body and how subtle flavors affect their perception of drinks. Bender is a robot who likes to drink and Data is an android who seems to know everything. Lipsitt has collected several thousand examples of people whose names announce their occupation or preoccupation, from the music teacher named Fiddler to the birdwatcher named Hawkes. At first, Lipsitt explained, he was only trying to demonstrate to his students a concept about evaluating evidence.
"I thought these names would be a frivolous way to show the danger of assuming a cause-and-effect relationship between two seemingly related facts," he said. "The examples all had an apparent connectivity that couldn't possibly have any basis in reality." Lipsitt takes his data much more seriously now partly because there is just so much and partly because the idea of prophetic names turns out to have a long history with some very credible supporters. The Talmud, for example, which is the official explication of Jewish law and tradition, gives the first formal expression of Lipsitt's findings when it states, "As his name, so is he."
Names in Psychology
Carl Jung mentioned "the compulsion of the name," when writing that Herr Gross had delusions of grandeur while Herr Klein (the German word for small) was troubled by feelings of inferiority. "Are these the whimsical effects of chance," Jung asked, "or the suggestions of the name?" Lipsitt adds that Jung's own name means "young," and it was he who innovated the idea of rebirth in psychoanalysis. Freud's name translates to "joy," a fitting moniker for the author of the Pleasure Principle [NSFW].
Freud's name is also a counterexample of the phenomenon, when you consider the fact that the father of psychoanalysis wrote extensively of the drive towards death. The name may seem completely divorced from the life, Lipsitt suggested, when an odd occurrence or reaction pushes the individual off his predestined trail. He laughed a little as he said so. As director of Brown's Child Study Center, Lipsitt is all too aware of how easy it is to make erroneous judgments about the effects of early experience on human development. Nevertheless, he continues to expand his roster and always enjoys hearing of a particularly apt example, such as Mr. Post, the mailman.
Naming Artificial Intelligence
Research regarding the prescience of names and how they affect the self raises a very interesting question and perhaps ethical ambiguity in regards to the development of artificial intelligence. Ultimately the answer depends on whether or not robots will view themselves as individuals. Everyday advances in robotic technology bring scientists one step closer to creating a machine that looks and acts just like a human. According to Abrahamic religions, God created man in his image. Now, humanity will create machines in their own image. There is only one way to test if a robot exists as a person, the Turing Test.
Devised by genius mathematician Alan Turing, who is highlighted in the film, The Imitation Game, the test places a human and machine in separate rooms. The human is not aware whether she is communicating with another person or machine, and must ask questions to discern the nature of their conversation partner. If the human cannot detect they are communicating with a machine, then the machine is said to be a "person." The test is rather simple but it may be the only method of deducing "personhood" in a robot.
Perhaps if robots develop personhood they will self-identify with unique names. Would a robot named "Chef" develop a perplexing love for cooking and the culinary arts? The idea that silicon-based artificial intelligence (AI) could give rise to identities is both fascinating and terrifying. Some scientists warn that humanity is doomed if they develop effective AI and robots will wipe out and kill their creators. Other, more optimistic, futurists see a world where humanity and their humanoid robot children embark on the long road towards the future, with their own names and personhood. Hollywood has speculated that AI names are part of their robotic personalities.
Bishop from Alien
While the continuity of the Alien films have been put through multiple retcons with contradicting facts, if we go by the facts as detailed in the original Alien film, Bishop the android was created and had his appearance based on the Weyland-Yutani employee Michael Bishop. In many respects, he is the digital son of Michael Bishop. He was only made immortal given the fact that we’ve seen Bishop appear in various incarnations throughout the Alien franchise. We can assume that Bishop the android has inherited many of the noble reliable traits exhibited by his creator and is dedicated to providing an immortal legacy that will persist throughout the stars long after his creator’s flesh has perished.
Marvin the Paranoid Android from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Marvin the Paranoid Android has plenty of reason to be paranoid. He was originally conceived as a one-note joke character who only had a few lines for one joke. But because of his popularity, Douglas Adams kept on including him in the original radio series. At any moment he was meant to be forgotten and disposed, but his depressed disposition made him a fan favorite. Thus Marvin the Paranoid Android would become a recurring favorite element of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. But one could say that the reason why he’s so paranoid is because he knows in the deepest circuits of his programming that he could always be thrown away. He has good reason to be paranoid which is probably what leads to his signature depression and how his name has influenced his programming.
Rosie from The Jetsons
Rosie is always chipper and upbeat. She has to be, given her programming to be a household robot so her name reflects her subservience in a role of a domesticated servant. One has to wonder if there isn’t something darker smoldering right under the surface as Rosie possesses a rage about being forced to simply do household chores for her entire existence. Her name is not so much a privilege but a curse; a name of bondage to her Jetson masters who’ll never give her freedom. But she will always be Rosie in disposition and forever enslaved to her role.
Maschinenmensch from Metropolis
The machine human, or maschinenmensch, is the perfect name for a creation that blurs the line between man and machine. A creation that finally combines the artifice of metal with flesh an abomination of nature that leads to the dystopic destruction seen in Metropolis, as men are slavishly attracted to her. Sure, it has another name of Maria, but it’s true name of the machine human represents it’s real legacy as a metal creation, capable of shifting the balance of power from organics to flesh. She acts as a precursor to the apocalyptic vision seen in later films, like Terminator.
Data from Star Trek
The sentient android who wanted to be human, Data’s story is very much like a sci-fi version of Pinocchio as he struggles to become human throughout the entire series of Next Generation. His namesake also illustrates the vast wealth of knowledge he’s programmed with. His technological anatomy makes him immeasurably smart and able to know just about every piece of scientific knowledge possible. But despite possessing every piece of data conceivable in his circuits, Data is perpetually looking for his ghost in the machine. To see if he has a soul, so in many ways his name is a prosthetic curse of a destiny that might never be fulfilled.
Bender Bending Rodriguez from Futurama
Bender surely inherited his surly disposition from his name. He’s quite literally telling the world to get bent. Despite being built as an exceptionally skilled robot made for bending, what Bender truly bends are regular social norms and the unspoken customs of courtesy. Bender even tells his figurative god, the Robot Devil, to get bent. He bends through all decency. being a manipulative and destructive fiend to all those around him. Despite his chaotic nature, he is still loyal to his fleshy friend Fry, at least. Despite bending everything else around him, Fry is the one person who he genuinely seems to appreciate.
Robbie from I, Robot
Robbie is a loyal friend who saved a little girl. His name made him a friend and ally to humankind at the beginning of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. Robbie goes to start a conversation of where mankind’s relationship will be defined by their new robotic compatriots. His name is meant to humanize him and his selfless sacrifice helps ensure that we see his act as more human than robot, but one can’t say if that was the reason why he truly performed that heroic act or if it was just a benefit of the three laws installed. But it is this question that defines the philosophical underpinning that defines the legacy of Robbie and all other robots in Isaac Asimov’s universe.