Andre Georges

What is a Robot: And How they Threaten Humans

Robots are central to R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robot), and an excerpt from The Mind’s I: Software, and a film: Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control. An examination of these three diverse perspectives leads to certain important questions. In the following paper I will attempt to address a few.

The primary question was asked succinctly in Marie Shelly’s book, Frankenstein. What happens when humankind oversteps its authority in natural matters, namely, playing the role: The Creator of life.

Chronologically, the play R.U.R. is first to present a scenario of consequences resulting from reproducing life, in the name of idealism. The invention of a serving class of robots was an attempt to remove the demeaning insult of hard labor that we humans have grappled with from the origin of our existence. What loftier goals than to remove backbreaking work from our lives.

It is an effective early landscape of the genesis of modern artificial intelligence. In this play, the successful robot culture evolves in unexpected ways. It seems the biggest folly is to teach them the history of mankind, wherein they learn to make the same mistakes that man has made over the millennia: the need to conquer and destroy the conquered. Ironically, they destroy themselves in their rush to eradicate their oppressors; Human Beings. Just as we humans rush headlong into hastily made judgements, the robots execute their flawed plan of logic, and pay the ultimate price: extinction. They didn’t learn how to reproduce themselves; something humans do, only too well.

In The Software, robots rebel as well; once again they fall prey to countervailing logic systems. They are not united in the Master Plan to conquer the Human Race, and the result is devastating to Ralph, our rebellious protagonist, a canny bucket of writhing software. The main theme addresses the software industry, and an ultimatum direction it could go in.

The moral of both of these stories seems to follow the saying: even the best laid plans of man…. Perhaps both of these doomsday scenarios are most useful as examples of how humans react to unknown factors that they perceive as threatening to their existence. Frankenstein is destroyed by a passionate mob. Currently, genetic cloning is thought of as a potential evil against society.

In Fast, Cheap & Out of Control., the closest the filmmaker comes to addressing the question, do we survive this one, is M.I.T.’s Rodney Brook’s comment that perhaps silicon based life form may, after all, win the race to live into the millenium.

The pattern in robotic research runs parallel in many ways, to natural forms of species growth. The one intangible question is: how far can you go without the infusion of what we, for lack of a better word, call a soul? Is the problem perhaps a matter of how we look at the concept of consciousness? For instance, the robots in R.U.R. are given the ability to feel fear and pain. Out of these particular additions to their being, they seem gain a sense of self.

The big question is: how do you make an invented machine, no matter how biologically sophisticated, think for itself?

Latest research shows that animals count numbers, a talent thought to be exclusive to humans. The idea that consciousness is an overblown concept is evident in the lowly lobster which seems to know to eat to survive, and not to eat itself. This is self-consciousness in some capacity.

The R.U.R. robots were given pain sensors to reduce wasteful damage to their structures. Was the side effect some level of consciousness? Does it build on itself?

The response humans take to mechanical genesis is understandably suspicion and distrust. A Luddite response to technology; are we to be replaced?

We can only wait and see if, we as a species, are brave enough to embark on the ultimate creative endeavor; to replicate ourselves in our own likeness. That question answers itself of course, as long as the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.