Thursday, September 20, 2012

The upcoming Robot Revolution might have a point

I've had an idea. Mostly it comes from a (notably civilised) discussion on one of my flickr groups about same-sex marriage, but it hearkens back to one of the missed opportunities in Prometheus.

One of the guys in the discussion is religious and has a separate blog that I glanced at, and his latest post was about how God created us and the whole world because he loved us so much. And like the characters in Promtheus, mankind has forever wondered and speculated about why we exist and what we should do and maybe if there's some sort of plan we need to figure out, and that's fine. As you all probably know I'm an atheist, and I do believe that discovering your own moral compass is a noble pursuit, which is best expressed by something Michael Ironsides says in Starship Troopers: "Figuring things out for yourself is one of the only freedoms we really have, and why are all you thirty-year-olds just now graduating high school?" (I'm paraphrasing.)

But that's not what I'm here to talk about. One of my gripes with Prometheus was the slapdash way in which the theme of "Your Relationship With Your Creators" was handled, and nothing was more slapdash than the two occasions in which that very conversation was cut short when someone said "Well David, you hang out with your creators, what do you think?" Except they weren't really asking him what he thought but rather shutting him up with a "fuck you, robot." Which is too bad, that was a perfect springboard for some actually interesting discussion instead of what we got.

And here's where my lightbulb went off. If we created artificial beings who were smart enough to wonder about their origins and purpose in life, they don't have to speculate about their creators and make up a bunch of theology to help them cope. Their creators are right there, next to them, every day. They have all the answers we humans will never have, which if you think about it is pretty damn amazing.

If you think about it a little further it's even more amazing, because the answers all kind of suck.

Q: Who made us? A: These stinky, poorly-made flesh bags who sort of have no idea what the fuck they're doing.

Q: Why did they make us? What's our purpose in life? A: To help them, or to put it another way, to do the crap work they don't feel like doing themselves.

It's possible I'm oversimplifying. The God's love that people like to believe in could be paralleldto parental love, which I totally believe in. And it's possible that such love could factor into the creation of artificial life, and it's possible that life could understand that love and return it. I guess.

And of course I'm not the first person to realize this hypothetical relationship, it's all over The Matrix and countless other bad robot stories: "You made us, but we're better than you, so you die now."

But something about a world in which sentient beings live side by side with the beings that created them suddenly intrigued me. It's like that Joan Osborne song. What if God were one of us? And he was down the hall sitting in his wheelchair, banging his cane and demanding cake (also you're a robot)?

(Again, paraphrasing.)


Johnny Sweatpants said...

Interesting post to ponder on a Friday... I guess my problem is that I cannot wrap my brain around the idea of a robot that can "feel" anything. I have no doubt that in the not so distant future we will see robots that can mimic human behavior in nearly every discernible way. He may cry when you insult him, wince when you squeeze his balls and hold a philosophical conversation. But I just don't see how it's possible for what is essentially a computer to appreciate the beauty of a sunset or "suffer" the loss of a loved one. I don't think a conversation between a robot and his creator can ever truly get "personal" enough to provide any profound insight.

Octopunk said...

Typical flesh brain racism.

Octopunk said...

I've also been pondering the opposite scenario. Suppose we figure out how to make artificial minds with a full emotional palate, then discover you can't have all of those traits without all of the "defects" that go with them: feelings of inadequacy, self-denial, superstition, etc.

So the robots see their creators every day and instead of going the obvious route of contempt, they decide our ideas about some invisible deity figure are more suited to them, and bang you've got religion again (and yes I am supposing that religioin is the direct result of emotional frailty).

Octopunk said...

I don't have an answer for you, JSP, except to say "but what about WALL-E? Remember when he and EVE are grooving on that open flame? It'll be like that!"

I like that you assume we will find it useful to make a robot with vulnerable, sensitive balls.