William Shatner, Star Trek's Captain Kirk, takes on an AI chatbot

AFP

Legendary "Star Trek" actor William Shatner has been spending time exploring the new frontier of artificial intelligence.

The actor best known for playing Captain Kirk on Star Trek talked with ProtoBot, a device that combines holographic visuals with conversational AI, and grappled with philosophical and ethical questions about the technology.

"I'm asking ProtoBot questions that ordinarily a computer doesn't answer," Shatner told Reuters. "A computer answers two plus two, but does ProtoBot know what love is? Can ProtoBot understand sentience? Can they understand emotion? Can they understand fear?"

The ProtoBot device was developed by hologram technology provider Proto Inc with conversational AI developer CodeBaby.

It will be released on September 8 and available free to owners of Proto M or Proto Epic hologram units.

The smaller Proto M unit costs around $6,500 while the life-size Proto Epic sells for $65,000. Proto intends to release a cheaper model for consumers in the next 18 months.

Shatner is a paid adviser for Proto.

Raffi Kryszek, the principal AI architect and head of innovation at Proto Hologram, said the device was designed to learn from conversations but it can only create something when prompted to do so.

"It shouldn't just think about it on its own," he said.

Lawmakers around the world are racing to put safeguards around the use of AI as the technology rapidly evolves.

Proto hopes its device will be used by educators, scientists and businesses to come up with new ideas, or for medical diagnostics, advice or just companionship.

"We're at a crossroads everywhere," Shatner said. "We're going to burn up or we're going to exceed all expectations and this is part of the crossroads. This will help us decide the current way to move on or it will defeat us. We're at a really interesting time in history."

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