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When Robots Weep Who Will Comfort Them?

This post explores some of my thoughts around concepts of Digital Culture.  You can find the other related entries HERE. 

*** This is an excerpt from the June Issue of Red Thread’s monthly newsletter. ***

 

 

 

 

 

What if one day, someone told you that you weren’t human – but a sophisticated sentient machine that was engineered in a factory. Your memories, your emotions, your habits, your quirks – everything that makes you unique – are all just binary code running in the background of an advanced operating system. Would you still consider yourself human? (If you’re intrigued by this premise, check out Battlestar Galactica.)

This month, we’ve thinking about the complicated interactions that take place between humans and technology.

Scientists have been trying to isolate the characteristics that differentiate us from other species for hundreds of years. The addition of technology into the mix has only further confused the issue. Frombiometric contact lenses to implants that enable us to control artificial limbs with our mind – we are redefining our relationship with technology on two fundamental levels.

 

1. Looking Inward: How much machinery can we integrate into ourselves while still being human? 

In last year’s RoboCop reboot, the main character, Alex Murphy, must face his own definition of humanity when his consciousness is transferred into a robotic cyborg. He discovers all that is left of his physical self are his lungs, one hand, and most of his head. Let’s just say, he doesn’t take the news well. If you take away the flesh and bones of a man, what does he retain?
2. Looking Outward: What kind of relationships can we have with machines? 

A 2007 study reported that people who owned Roombas (small, autonomous robotic vacuums cleaners) developed deep emotional attachments to their device, including giving it a name, creating customized covers for it, and even rearranging the furniture to accommodate it better.

Soon, the technology will be smart enough to recognize and even reciprocate our feelings. David Levy, AI expert and author of “Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships predicts that by 2050 “Robots will have the capacity to fall in love with humans and to make themselves romantically attractive and sexually desirable to humans.”

In her book The Human Age, historian Diana Ackerman wonders whether machines can ever possess that intangible spark that makes us human.

Key quote:

 

[Robots] will never be embodied exactly like us, with a thick imperfect sediment of memories, and maybe a handful of diaphanous dreams.

Who can say what unconscious obbligato prompts a composer to choose this rhythm or that — an irregular pounding heart, tinnitus in the ears, a lover who speaks a foreign language, fond memories evoked by the crackle of ice in winter, or an all too human twist of fate?

I don’t know if robots will be able to do the sort of elaborate thought experiments that led Einstein to discoveries and Dostoevsky to fiction. Yet robots may well create art, from who knows what motive, and enjoy it based on their own brand of aesthetics, satire (if they enjoy satire), or humor.

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