Andre Georges

What Is A Robot?

Looking at the history of the word Robot leads us to the 17th century Slavonic term for payments of compulsory labor by serfs to landlords.(The Western Heritage.5th ed. Kagan, Ozment, Turner. Pg.583) It Seems that this is an appropriate title for a class of machines that serve people, i.e. follow orders due to compulsory programming requirements.

Perhaps if these machines become able to follow their own agenda then it will be time to define them under a new category.

This existing definition that is a holdover from the European continent explains the stigma that robots have encountered since the introduction of human engineered robots to modern society in Capek’s play, R.U.R. in 1923. After all, the original term represented oppressed serfs in the Habsburg lands. They would eventually revolt and be set free to some degree by Joseph II in 1789. Given this association, its not hard to see the popular view that robots will overcome just like their predecessors.

What is at the core of this issue is the question of guilt over having someone do your work for you. The dynamic of an employee/employer relationship always has some degree of resentment on behalf of the employee, and distrust on the part of the employer. This feeling of oppression on the part of humans over robots is purely psychological, and counterproductive. Anthropomorphizing human attributes to robots is a fascinating pathology that tells us a lot about humans, but nothing about robots.

Certainly the personality of the programmer could be reflected in the behavior of the robot, but this does not by any means point to anything more than the machine carrying out a specific sets of instructions.

Initiation of independent output is not part of the capability of robotic engineering. The sooner we get over the superstition that robots will out evolve us, the sooner we will effectively use them for what they are best suited for, like: tasks that are dangerous or unbearably tedious, space pioneering, and tasks that demand exacting accuracy and consistency.

It must be kept in mind that we don’t need independent thinking machines, just better trained humans to direct the sophisticated machines that will inevitably multiply in the coming millenium.