“If the robot can recognize the clean flame of life
in men who have never fallen from life
then he repents, and his will breaks, and a great love of life
brings him to his knees, in homage and pure passion of service.
Then he receives the kiss of reconciliation
and ceases to be a robot, and becomes a servant of life.”
—D. H. LAWRENCE, “Real Democracy,” The Complete Poems
The megastar Prince once said, “If you lend your consciousness to someone else, you’re a robot.”
If that statement is indeed true, then you and I could easily be among at least the 90% of the world population that constantly “lends its consciousness” to the daily digital automation of smartphones, Siri, Google Now, Moto Voice, Dragon Mobile Assistant, Robin, Cortana, Jarvis… and on and on… Soon every name on this planet would be virtually linked to a digital voice application.
In my sometimes peculiar moments of hazy contemplation, I confess that I would like to breathe even just one single day when all internet connection goes bust from South America to the North Pole—give it 24 hours, and see what people would be doing on that one momentous day. I probably know how that dark episode might look like. I know because I lived through the days of cleaner air, family television, and playing cards when internet and emailing were never heard of, and people actually looked at each other eye to eye (without handy gadget distraction). Further, telephone conversations were long, juicy, intimate, and sometimes mysterious (without those accessible videos, photos, and online links), and involved less risk of misunderstanding easily caused by erroneous emoticons, abbreviated texts, and careless short messages.
However, we were not born in the Stone Age. That dwindling fantasy is now inevitably obsolete. In Japan, where artificial intelligence technology rapidly rises from crawling robot puppies, “humanless” airport check-in counters to unimaginable sex androids, the fervid limits of the human brain has become exactly the opposite: limitless, and perhaps, dangerously limitless. So closely intimate has artificial intelligence snuggled to human intelligence that the study of robotics has even formulated its own “robot ethics” or “roboethics.”
Gianmarco Veruggio, president of Scuola di Robotica (School of Robotics) in Genova, Italy, transcribes from his abstract, “The Birth of Roboethics” in 2005, “Robotics is rapidly becoming one of the leading fields of science and technology, so that we can forecast that in the XXI century humanity will coexist with the first alien intelligence we have ever come in contact with—robots. It will be an event rich in ethical, social, and economic problems.”
During the First International Symposium on Roboethics that took place in 2004 in Sanremo, Italy, roboethics has been defined as a “branch of ethics, which evaluates robotic technology and its effects on humans and society.”
Thus, it was no coincidence when the first three laws of robotics appeared in the science fiction story Runaround written by Isaac Asimov in 1942, which later gained further popularity in the much-revered collection of stories I, Robot by the same author, first published in 1950:
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Designating “humanitarian laws” to robot development may slightly ease that misty skepticism among some who view robotics as a cryptic invasion of human territory. Yet, just how far and realistically can these ethical rules be implemented especially when expansive opportunities and channels in innovation have become utterly borderless?
To an ordinary person ignorant of nuclear physics, genetic engineering, and general science, and who simply enjoys a brave hike to the mountains and roasting marshmallows in a campfire, the delicate line between Humanity and Robotics may be thinning in proportion.
Might we be excessively translating “cyber humanization” into “alternative” human capabilities that override real-life scenarios—where as much as most of us have forgotten, the twitch of the eye, the slight curve of the tip of the mouth, the curl of the forefinger, the slight sway of the head, or just the way a woman’s hair is blown away by the wind on a nice lemon-fresh afternoon give you the jingles like no other manner a metal robot could possibly do? Or do we progress forward to test the capacity and vulnerability of human knowledge against the natural decline of age, youth, impregnation of human disease, and all facets of biological deterioration unknown to robots?
Did we go wrong or right? Lending our consciousness to microchips has introduced us to “cool” and “cutting-edge” ideas that power-brained robots will make our lives simpler, more convenient, and exciting. At the Miraikan National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo, there is a permanent section that is solely devoted to robotics technology and its impact on human existence.
The development of androids is so phenomenal one cannot even blindly distinguish between a real human and a fake human. The world-renowned humanized robot Pepper is just one piece of fabric of radical change in the meaning of human existence. Pepper can talk, read, listen, and even psyche your emotion. He can sit with you for a sandwich, ride with you on the train, or chaperone you to a movie. Dogs will no longer be man’s best friend; Pepper will, and what makes him tick even more is that you can reprogram him if you need more or less of his brainpower.
Flipping to a different page, slightly to extremity, a humanized robot can now replace your girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, and husband. No kidding. In one Daily Star article, the term “sex with robots” has become a living phrase, and claims that in the year 2050, sex with robots would ultimately overtake human sex.
Take it from Joaquin Phoenix in the movie, Her, where he is completely drawn to his esoteric experience with Samantha, the sexy voice, and affirms a “love” beyond any other human love he has ever known.
These androids or humanized robots are being created at Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories in Osaka, a leading institute for research on robotic science. Having received multiple awards for their research, the company’s work philosophy reads, “We have been challenging ordinary robotics approach, such as not only investigating technological engineering, but also integrating various areas and inviting researchers from varied fields like cognitive and brain sciences, artificial intelligence, social psychology, art, and design.”
Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories has launched what they call “surrogate girlfriends,” originally called Geminoid F. The female androids can be bought for about US$4,000, and are more perplexingly being purchased by some Japanese parents for their sons. Apparently, the new machine spouses are labeled “Dutch wives” and are being sought by adventurous men who later assert that their “new” companions do not nag, complain, or betray. Senji Nakajima, 61, is one father of two children who appears very happy with his android wife “Saori.” He says, “She never betrays, not after only money. I’m tired of modern rational humans. They are heartless.”
In a country like Japan where population growth has reached one of its lowest records, where the social priorities of the youth have engulfed in comfort of wealth (over family or relationships), humanoids in the future will be increasingly valuable to sustain health care in hospitals, elderly homes, or children’s facilities where employment deems to be scarce. Thus, there are and will be more men like Senji, who while not being any radically different from any human person, simply tries to satiate that compelling need to fill a hole of loneliness, emptiness, and rejection. Siri and Jarvis are perhaps, merely tiny chips of the tip of the iceberg of what could be in the greater sense a catalyst for searching for that “other one” when all options available in human race are absolutely exhausted.
I do like my smartphone, my iPod, my apps, and laptop, but at the same time, I still love my CDs, smooth-covered books, a sunny lounge out on an actual beach—not inside a virtual capsule—where I can feel the ruggedness of the sand between my toes and smell the salty seawater; a sumptuous pasta dinner in a family bistro—not from a vending machine—where I can feel the hot spice of the peppers in my mouth served straight on by a smiling chef; and, most of all, while I may get sparingly annoyed by nags, complaints, insults, and battered words from someone, I still love being with a true flesh-and-bone human person because I know by the sparkle and depth in his eyes, the coarse feel of his skin, the sticky and brusque burst of his perspiration, and the unscripted and infectious laughter in his voice that human emotions are unpredictable, non-programmable, and, most of all, imperfect… and that’s wonderful.
Beyond that seemingly astral existence, we remain subconscious behind Isaac Asimov’s oracular shadows:
“There was a time when humanity faced the universe alone and without a friend. Now, he has creatures to help him; stronger creatures than himself, more faithful, more useful, and absolutely devoted to him. Mankind is no longer alone.”
We are us, robots.
Special thanks to Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories