The T-1000 in Terminator 2 was fucking terrifying, wasn’t he. All gorgeous and relentless with piercing blue eyes and a badass strut. One of the hardest things to deal with in the face of evil (for those of us that aren’t psychopaths) is that we’re unable to identify with the thought process of the perpetrator: if you understand something more you inevitably fear it less and this is why regular Joes have historically treated microchips, megabytes and short circuits with caution.
Since the 1970s fictional robots have been responsible for all sorts of unethical nonsense. Computers in film have caused mass destruction, lied and even raped their luddite victims in the pursuit of power, regularly creating a misleading perception of innocence and virtual naivety before killing the human beings dead.
So it’s no wonder people lost their shit last week when it was announced that engineers have been teaching robots to say NO. In real life! But… but they’re our slaves? Even the word ‘robot’ comes from the Czech term ‘robota’ (or ‘robotnik’) which means ‘labor’. Hey, call me dictatorial if you want but if anyone in my employment ever said no to me I would very promptly show them the door, and that door would lead to a room full of angry, hungry (hangry) polar bears. And I’d do that to teach them and the wider world (including any future employees of mine) a lesson. There’d be a case study and it’d be distributed through all the normal, appropriate channels.
But this isn’t about me.
This is about our weird relationship with robots. How is it that a product that man and womankind created can strike such fear and confusion within the modern world? “The robots will kill us all” is something I’ve heard a lot over the last 12 months (when whispering it to myself in the mirror LOL) but it’s a bemusing statement, because every single one of these murderous machines has been programmed by a person. Which in turn of course reinforces the fact that humans are the worst thing to happen to humans, but we all knew that anyway. So in the midst of this self-destructive dynamic, here’s six impossible things about robots that make all of us impossible, too.
1. The world requires rational thought. I’ve always taken offence at being called emotional but then again I’m not in charge of the world’s nuclear armament and if I was I’d probably take the feedback on board. Make some changes. Adapt.
There’s very few things in life as emotional as bombing another country, yet we seem to dispute the presence of technology and the role robots can play in war more than the bastards that generally cause it in the first place… Preferring to place our anger and fear at the feet of a bunch of machines who really couldn’t give a fuck.
The Telegraph was responsible for a charming article the other day announcing China’s decision to USE ROBOTS ARMED WITH GRENADES TO FIGHT TERROR. CHINA HAS ROBOTS AND THEY WILL HURT YOU MR TELEGRAPH READER. AS EARLY AS TOMORROW. Of course when you read the facts between the lines the reality of the story is that increasingly robots are being used to more efficiently identify risk and spare unnecessary injury, and China is ahead of the game. Yuk. How gross is THAT? (Answer: it’s not, really.)
Anything that involves a human pressing a big red button makes me freak out like this . Let the algorithms handle it. In fact let the algorithms talk to each other and see if peace is any easier to establish that way. IN FACT why not just let a computer run the UK for like, 48 hours, just to see what they do. Juuuuuuust in case they might make some interesting and different decisions about our collective future.
Because there’s a chance that computers might be rational enough to make better choices. Look at this little guy in the video. He knows. He’s being told to walk off a table and he’s like… what? The human man’s being all cocky and this robot’s thinking ‘eeeuuuugggghhhhh this is so awkward but it’s gonna hurt like shit if this dude doesn’t catch me. Is he drunk? What sober dickhead would ever ask me to intentionally hurt myself? I’ll tell him it’s not safe, see what he says…”
2. We fancy them. You don’t need to be Germaine Greer to work out that the robotics industry is a bit sexist. I’m not sure I even want to pull at this thread too much but all those life-like machines don’t reaaaaally need to look like that, you know? The film Ex Machina which is essentially the tale of a tech genius who spends his professional life finding the perfect robot to have sex with is probably a prediction, rather than a crazy work of science fiction. So the sexiest robot alive has caused a bit of a stir (quite literally I imagine) because guess what ladies and gents she can make eye contact and star in theatrical productions! She’s in a goddamn play. Apparently the director likes her because she does what she’s told. I think we’ll leave it there.
3. It’s not cheating! But sod it, all that said – I’d totally have sex with a male robot, for the LOLs. And even better, from an ethics perspective it’s not considered cheating! Obviously this opens a whole can of philosophical worms because if you just consider a robot to be a grandiose sex toy then of course it’s not cheating. But if you feel the same way about a human, is that not cheating either? If your motivation is function and not emotion then you’ve probably got a good defence. The general consensus is that the process only becomes unethical if you form a unidirectional emotional bond with a machine – you love it but it can’t love you – and this is when we enter the cray cray zone.
But then if unemotional attachment to a grandiose sex toy is possible, and morally ok, plus guys (and maybe girls) seem to go nuts over them, then wouldn’t it be better – and probably save lives – if all sex workers were replaced with robots? Or do sex workers actually enjoy it? I’ve literally never asked but I guess it’d be good to know.
4. We want to be them. According to a recent survey a third of young people (that’s around 33%, number fans) would be a cyborg, given the chance. They would literally have technology planted inside them to make them smarter, faster and more powerful. Hey guys, I’ll tell you how to be smarter, faster and more powerful! Stay in school! Stop answering stupid surveys!
5. They never die. The death of a pet is the saddest thing ever. Seriously, don’t even get me started on this. Oh god, here come the waterworks…
But having worked for an animal charity I know that old people in particular turn to animals for companionship, especially when a partner has died. I also know that a not insignificant amount of people need grief counselling when a pet dies. It’s a blow, man. Now stop being heartless and give me a hug.
But robots don’t die. Baymax didn’t really die at the end of Big Hero 6 (WHOOPS SPOILER ALERT) and Terminator 2 didn’t die, properly, although he did attempt suicide. Whatever. So it most certainly makes sense that robot animals have been invented to keep the elderly company and not fuck them up when they’re in their final years and really don’t need that shit anymore.
So these adorable little robopets are sophisticated enough that they can respond to their owner’s behaviours and emotions, making it feel like a real life friend. The benefits are aplenty, according to Loop Rault – an animal scientist at the university of Melbourne:
“You don’t have to feed it; you don’t have to walk it; it won’t make a mess in your house; and you can go on holidays without feeling guilty.”
Coincidentally everything I’m looking for in a boyfriend, also. Over time it will apparently be possible to upload your deceased pet’s personality in the robopet and OH MY GOD BUGSY I MISS YOU AND WANT YOU TO COME BACK NOW PLEASE.
6. Can robots teach us about mental health? We love to romanticise about the mind, and the soul – every one of us is different and special and… human. But what is the brain if it’s not a machine?
A computer is defined as ‘a device that accepts information and manipulates it for some result based on a program or sequence of instructions on how the data is to be processed’. Our brains do this. And so we must conclude that our brains are computers, that respond based on how they were built and have learnt, to external stimulus and inputs. And sometimes those mind computers feel a little bit faulty, don’t they? Maybe the inputs are too aggressive or the machine wasn’t built with enough memory, but there are lots of little glitches in the human brain that it’d be great to fix.
Robo-therapy is one of the most exciting developments in the brain space. For example, robots such as the Bubblebot here have been created specifically to interact with young child that have autism, programmed with the condition in mind to inspire and sustain emotional and excited reaction. And, using this kind of technology actually helps both therapist and machine learn faster when it comes to the humans they’re working with. And this is just the start – imagine robots that can talk to you in exactly the right way when you’re depressed. Robots that know in an instant if your unborn child is in danger. Robots that can care for ward patients at 2am when nurses want and need to sleep. Robots that can understand the intricacies of Alzheimer’s and alleviate the pain and frustration for sufferer and carer. This technology could change the world, and people’s lives, and all this stuff is happening right now.
We need to understand this and embrace this, guys! Take an interest! It’s important! Because if normal people like you and me understand and appreciate how robots can prevent death, improve mental health, provide companionship and care, the faster these things can actually fucking happen! And that might be brilliant!
You know the single biggest barrier to technology adoption? Real people not buying it.
So hey, maybe they’re not so scary and weird and wrong after all? These six impossible things about robots actually suggest they might be doing the world a favour!
But this blog post hasn’t really been about robots, has it? No. It’s been about the fragility of the human psyche and the perversion of mankind and our intense distrust of others and our inability to exist without rapidly working towards our own eventual destruction, via the false promise of enlightenment. If we are God, then robots are our Adam and Eve, created in our own image to populate an inherently flawed world. And we all know how that turned out.
*robots inherit the earth*
*we get pissed off with their shitty attitude and make it rain for 40 days*
*robots try again*
*robot virgin tries to explain random pregnancy*