Wouldn’t it be great to get a robot to help you out at home? In Part 1 & Part 2, we’ve talked about robots being relationship stand-ins and even sex bots. Now, it’s time to look at how robots can help us at home and explore the possibilities of just how close A.I. will get to the real thing.
*****Article by Azral Hanan*****
Today the notion of robots taking care of us and doing all the work is definitely no longer in the realm of sci-fi. We have fully automated industries where robots have replaced human labour. As said before, robot drones now fly the skies, watching or killing while saving the lives of soldiers and pilots who are no longer in harm’s way. Robots are used for humanitarian purposes as well: finding survivors of natural disasters such as earthquakes and disposing of bombs and mines.
(Image via Android World)
The concept of the robot wife or domestic helper takes it one step further. It’s also part wish-fulfillment; the adolescent male fantasy of the perfect housewife who will take care of the household, the kids while still looking fabulous for her husband when he comes home from work. More sinisterly it appeals to the patriarchal ego trip that some men have of women or wives serving their husbands or male masters – taking care of their physical, emotional and family needs with no complaints and only fawning adoration (see: Stepford Wives). It’s a powerful, conservative ideal.
On the surface, having artificial domestic servants sounds like a smashing idea. They’ll work till they drop, and give 100% or more depending on the setting. They won’t complain, or steal your jewelry or cash. If advances have made in cybernetics and synthetic skins, they could be all made to look like supermodels, take your pick which one.
A scene from Stepford Wives
A scene from Stepford Wives
Feminists might argue that sexualisation of domestic server robots could have a spillover effect into other areas where the men might treat women the same way they would the robot. More insidiously, having an army of aesthetically appealing slave androids could influence social attitudes in unforeseen ways. It might encourage more misogyny and women and children being treated as chattel. Or it could have a more positive result: people with an inclination to abuse women and children as slaves could use the robots as the outlet instead. So, the overall standard in human relations improves as everyone mistreats a robot servant in place of humans currently.
Also if androids can serve as companions and domestic helpers while being sexually enticing, the eventuality of people taking them for wives also increases (yeah, humans are weird creatures). This is already foreseen by Futurologist Ray Hammond. “There will certainly be emotional attachment between humans and machines,” he then adds “although I don’t think ‘marriage’ is anything other than a word for headline writers. People already form weak emotional bonds with inanimate objects, and as objects become increasingly intelligent, these bonds will strengthen.” I love my computer, doesn’t mean I want to mate with it though.
Now with the rapid pace of advancement in IVF treatments potentially life-like female androids with working wombs could be coming our way. Already a technique to convert human skin cells into egg cells was revealed just recently in May of this year by the University of Oregon. Imagine if artificial wombs could be fitted into a female android with the egg cells provided by the skin of the human owner perhaps. The advent of a fully functional synthetic woman with the capacity for procreation is becoming more and more tangible. The implications for society will be tremendous. The only thing that separates them from a real human then is the lack of a soul…or is it?
(Image via D4N 13l3)
Ghost in the Machine
“When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote… of a soul?” (Dr. Alfred Lanning, from ‘I, Robot’)
The concept of artificial or created beings having a consciousness or a soul is not a new one. In Pinnochio the title character is a wooden puppet that comes to life but who wishes to be a real boy. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the monster Victor created out of body parts is famously brought to life by a lightning strike and develops a separate and new personality different from that of the dead bodies from which it was composed. The monster then comes to the conclusion that in this cruel world all it wanted was a companion so as not to be alone.
We’ve been conditioned to think of a soul as a transparent image of ourselves transposed on our physical form, or some sort of etheric energy that empowers matter. The issue of the soul is a metaphysical question and therefore impossible to answer empirically. But one of the metaphors used to distinguish us humans from the beasts of the fields and the forests, is our capacity to make choices (usually informed) and our ability for self-awareness, as well as being able to express that self-awareness to others.
Check out this creepy display of artificial intelligence:
Since no one has yet been able to devise a scientific means of detecting a soul’s presence, the current best way is to look at how something reacts and responds and whether it corresponds to our notions of soul and consciousness. Animals are screwed because though many acknowledge they do have self-awareness and the capacity to make choices, it is next to impossible for an animal to be given equal rights or seen as possessing a soul on account of being non-relatable to us (and also we’ve been butchering them for years).
Androids and automatons however do not suffer from these flaws. Instead they can look and feel as realistically human as technological achievement would allow. Eventually lifelike androids that can appeal to us emotionally will appear on the market. As David Levy winner of the 2009 Loebner prize for Artificial Intelligence puts it, “If a robot appears in every way to possess consciousness, then in my opinion, we should accept that it does”.
Check out this amazing rendition of what A.I. would be like:
If artificial intelligence (AI) develops where it thinks and acts in a manner indistinguishable from human beings, does it mean it has sentience? Therefore should it be afforded rights? These are questions that throw up interesting and subversive ideas of what it means to be human with massive theological and philosophical implications. This post marks the end of our three part article on robots.