With recent advances in robotics comes the inevitable expanding angst of human robotics scientists, many of whom now fear that their technological super-creations will soon surpass their own intellectual abilities, eventually rendering the human intellect obsolete. I find these trumped up concerns to be rather silly even nonsensical, but I can see how science might be more than a little bit worried.
Serious injury and medical messes made during the deployment of robots in surgical procedures should serve as fair warning to the blithe fools among the many brilliant men and women who toil in our scientific community: Never assign a machine to complete a task more efficiently performed by the trained and experienced hands of highly skilled human beings. Lesson learned, one would hope.
And then there is HAL: the once-brilliant-now-gone-beserk super computer who ran all the operations on the spaceship in the historic Stanley Kubrick film “2001 Space Odyssey.” We all know how that story ended. It was a 1960s era prophetic and cautionary tale: “Never let the master robot take over the spaceship.”
By contrast, in the film “Interstellar” the on-board robots prove themselves invaluable, saving lives and helping to salvage the space mission itself. In the movie “I Robot” state-of-the-art robots who do nearly everything for human society, run amuck and wreak havoc upon an entire city, nearly bringing about total collapse.. In The Matrix trilogy the robots have long since waged war on humans, won the battle, and taken over the world, now breeding humans via giant techno-warehouses as a disposable liquid food source, the most hideous imagining yet of a robotics based society gone terribly wrong. [ It’s never explained to the movie goer why the advanced machines who rule the Matrix must necessarily feast on a puree of liquid flesh and blood, but I suppose it made for an ‘uckier’ more gripping story. ] Thanks to advances in robotics we are presently re-imagining our greatest hopes and dreams as a species, while also exploring our darkest fears about the technology we are developing. Robotics is one of the most popular motion picture themes in the modern era, and rightfully so. We are now on the cusp of achieving great things, things we only dreamed of 60 years ago.
I would venture to say that at this point, late 2014, we have not yet learned how to teach these machines to become adroitly intuitive, truly insightful, or actually imaginative. [ Yet.] I’m sure there will be those who will argue my point.
The solution to our future as a species who successfully deploys robotics lies with our own supreme choices and most important moral decision making in the next 30 years, choices we will soon make with those same mighty intellects which can endow machines with the ability to manufacture cars, build boats, and even pick the right stocks. We can choose to develop smart military soldier robots who will go to war in 125 degree desert heat to ferret out ISIS overlords, risking no human lives in eliminating the threat. That’s definitely a use for robots I would put on my ‘to-do’ list asap. We have already invented clever little robots who can find people buried under tons of rubble or locate and defuse bombs under remote control, risking no human lives in the process. Excellent!
Should robots clean toilets in hotel rooms, change your motor oil, check out shoppers, sell airline tickets and pick fresh orchard fruit? Sure! But be sure to have job training programs already in place ready to re-assign those displaced human workers who will now need to learn new and needed skills.
Should robots write software ethics programs to develop behavioral protocols for their own kind? At this point, probably not. If we can’t teach them to perform surgery without causing human injury, they probably are not ready to author the encyclopedias on how they should function behaviorally either. It’s just common sense. And common sense seems to be the one ability that scientists cannot endow upon robots. It’s a uniquely human gift of wisdom and experience that machines don’t seem capable of gleaning just yet. We might ought to hope that they don’t. There needs to be a few jobs left in the robot ruled future that our own scientists can still do – on their own.
What we ought to be attending to first, before we design human-like robots which can cook a seven course meal, run for president, and rule the world, is our own real and lasting spiritual development in these next one hundred years. Our religious lives need to become LESS a cause for never-ending war, and MORE a source of everlasting inner peace. This is not only possible for the human species, but many millions of spiritual persons already enjoy this inner peace that men and women hunger for all over the world. And many have quietly achieved such gains without ever setting foot in a traditional church or mosque. Therefore, logic tells us that it is the individual quest for spiritual truth and attainment that is the actual source of personal aspiration, not the collective mass consciousness which squabbles endlessly over the relative virtues of one religious system over another.
If religions are perceived as the fundamental root of the problem, then let’s choose to go beyond traditional religions, and find common ground in our fundamental shared humanity. As a species we have yet to achieve real cross cultural brotherhood and sisterhood. We are still killing one another based on misled racial bias, misunderstanding, old genetic hatreds, and often just for sport.
We can achieve our species wide goal of attaining “Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward men” by meaningful personal and individual effort. Collective spiritual efforts come later, after this species has learned not to kill one another as a wrongly imagined solution to mankind’s problems. It falls upon the individual man or woman, in private, within their own souls and conscience, to make the right personal and moral choices EVERY DAY that can help to lead the species toward peace and away from hell, death and endless war. No robot can ever do that, and no robot ever will.
If we believe that robots hold the solution to mankind’s problems, we are misled and traveling down the wrong road to the future. A machine is a tool. A robot is no different than a jackhammer, a screwdriver, a power saw, or a corvette. It’s a machine designed to perform some series of tasks. Attempt to endow it with any other qualities and you may be walking off the edge of the cliff, having never looked once at what is in front of you. Before we decide to dedicate our species to the development of robots, why not spend a few decades just becoming better human beings instead?
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