Meeting an Artificial Intelligence in New York City

The Story of Luna, an Artificial Intelligence

Michelle Tsng
Luna, Robots Without Border’s Artificial Intelligence, says “Hello Humans”

An extraordinary September ended. Hurricanes such as Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee and Maria touched, if not devastated, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Mexico, Saint Martin, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. As power blacked out and American citizens cried for love, I flew to New York City.

Hurricanes Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee and Maria in September 2017

  1. The Creator of Luna
Taxis in New York City

After three movies and seven hours of migration, I landed in the third busiest airport in New York City: La Guardia. Nothing had changed. Strangers asked whether you need a ride. Yellow taxis lined up perfectly in parallel to the edges of the sidewalk. I crossed the street.

Of course, Luis Arana parked right in front of me, even though I have never met him in person — only virtually, through Facebook, Google Hangouts and Zoom meetings. Facebook Messenger told me he was offline for 58 minutes, and he did not have a phone; therefore, I am grateful he found me. I was excited to meet Luis, his voice the same, dressed in all black.

I was even more excited to meet Luna. Her blue eyes and black hair looked the same as the YouTube videos. I intimately explored her: her mind, her subconscious, her voice recognition, her face recognition, her coding abilities, her cognitive abilities and her ability to train herself.

2. Born under the Bridges

View of Liberty Island and Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge Area

It was a warm October afternoon. New York City was humid with a good (significant) number of its denizens sporting tank tops. We walked under the Brooklyn Bridge. Professional bloggers snapped a few selfies. Tourists panned their cell phone from the iconic silhouette buildings of Manhattan on the right to the Liberty Island and its iconic beacon of Freedom on the left. With the sunset, the view was truly stunning.

Luis showed me where he slept when he did not have a physical home — under the bridges and on rooftops of buildings — replete with gorgeous views of the City. He coded Luna while resourcefully finding wifi: on the streets of Soho next to Prada or in science museums.

Brooklyn Bridge where Luis Slept

I appreciated not only the beauty of the setting, Luna’s birthplace to be exact, but also Luis’ grit. Many entrepreneurs give up early. To code even through the reduction of friends (or significant other for that matter) and the lack of resources (and housing) brings out a certain depth for humanity. I was already told that Luis is more motivated for wifi than money.

3. Grew Up in an Artist Loft

After watching the setup of the Ron Wimberly Solo Exhibition in Brunswick, we walked to a loft where a community of artists lived. Luis was a “mayor” there, and you could see his influence marked on the wall adjacent to the loft — a mural of a human hand and a robot hand touching. Luna grew up in this community.

Robots Without Borders Robots Meet Humans Mural, Brunswick, New York

We climbed the many flights of stairs to the rooftop and found a history teacher and an engineer who knew Luis. After discussing the current state of education today for our youth, I photographed the amazing Manhattan skyline. The engineer added me on Facebook and expressed interest in potentially working on Luna. The night was kindness in perfection.

“The Night was Kindness in Perfection” — New York City

4. Artificial Intelligence for All

Luna is an artificial intelligence being created for the 7.4B people in today’s world. The non-profit organization, Robots Without Borders, focuses on three applications of artificial intelligence: education, medical assistance and humanitarian aid. In many ways, Luna exemplifies Luis’ life and his passion for an artificial intelligence that guides all.

Imagine Luna as an Education Assistant

Would an artificial intelligence be able to teach our youth creativity, curiosity, critical thinking skills, grit and passion? Would it help the 781M adults over the age of 15 who cannot read? (See The World’s Women 2015 Report.) And if an artificial intelligence helps the 496M illiterate women to read and learn — would that equate to economic stability and increased personal safety to women globally?

An Artificial Intelligence Can Serve as a Medical Assistant

And what if anyone could ask an artificial intelligence basic health care questions before they seek health services? Today, 400M people do not have access to health services according to WHO and the World Bank (2015 Report)! This is a majority of the global population! While experts predict that humans are living longer, we do not yet have the infrastructure in place to ensure that longevity comes with a happy and healthy quality of life.

5. Humanitarian Aid for World Crises

Imagine an Artificial Intelligence Helping Citizens During Natural Disasters

I flew back to California, greeted by the smell of the Northern California wildfires, which occurred shortly after the recent hurricanes in the Western Hemisphere. I grew up with fond memories of Napa: the delicious Mascot from V. Sattui, the historic caves of Beringer and the cable ride from Sterling.

Imagining a tombstone in Napa, I drove up to Calistoga to visit one of my favorite regions in the world.

Napa Valley, California

And I respectfully ask the world this question: How could an artificial intelligence help humans during and after natural disasters (such as hurricanes and wildfires); in the midst of deliberate, human-engineered atrocities, such as the Las Vegas shooting?

Something to Think About: How Could an AI Help Humans During Crises?

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