Category Archives: robots yes or no

Our Robot Karma

We have read enough descriptions of the future to believe that robots will play a role in it. Robotics has already crept into our factories, our living rooms, our swimming pools and our toy boxes. We expect that robots will eventually take care of all our menial tasks and set us free. What will we do with all that free time? It depends. Some of us may be freed up for creative and intellectual pursuits. Some will choose nonsense and/or mayhem.
In every science fiction book I have read robots, which start out as novelties and helpmates, become liabilities in very short order. For one thing we insist on anthropomorphizing our robots. CP30 and R2D2 are quite human and yet quite lovable. Star Wars is one of the few stories which depicts a caring partnership between humans and robots. But, in most cases, once we give robots human characteristics we start to turn them into family members, friends, or enemies. We start to feel guilty about turning them into an underclass. We are lonely and we want them to befriend us. We want them to act like they care about us. Once we see robots as humans we want to “make it so.” We want them to understand us and to be able to empathize with us. And then, once we invent robots that are so human that they resemble the “replicants” in Blade Runner, we have to set them free and give them their “rights”.
This is when the robots, whether they take to form of human-like machines or mechanized humans, turn on us and rebel. The age of robots almost always ends badly for people. In one scenario:  as the earth becomes more toxic humans die out and robots become the dominant form of “life” or, as in Wall-E, the world is left to robots and cockroaches, but because this is Disney all ends well for humans. Another scenario:  robots form armies and fight humans (I, Robot) and then they fight each other, or, smart robots engineer evolved robots whenever the need for a new weapon in the robot wars arises (Robopocalypse).

Either we need to retreat from the road that leads to robots or we need to watch very carefully for signs that our robots are plotting to overthrow /outlast us. Does science fiction predict the future, or a possible future; or does it cause the future to be created in its image? In any case I can feel my passion for robots dwindling. Of course, I just finished reading Cloud Atlas where robots really do turn the majority of humans into dependent sloths and where a plucky robot named Sonmi-451 becomes a god after the apocalypse (which in this case is not caused by robots). Even though humans often come out on top in the robot/human wars this looks like it might be a path we should avoid. I know we will not do that because we have already set our hearts on creating robots and we are indomitable; we will not be deterred. I guess hostilities are not imminent but keep your eyes and ears open.

One word:  Terminator