Even though the more I’ve researched about the things that could go wrong with advancing robots, as unlikely the dystopic future we envision in sci-fi is to come to fruition; the thread of fearing the inhuman persists. Perhaps it is an extension of humans needing to apply the ‘us’ and ‘them’ hostility to anything that doesn’t belong in their belief system, or the fact that immortal machines, wearing our faces and speaking our words, only reminds us of our own mortality (MacDorman 2005).
For Cybercultures, I have been generating a podcast series that revolves around an exploration of case studies into robots in films and television; and how they exemplify our fear of what robots will become. I aimed with this artefact, to use these robot characters in media to showcase key concepts and revelations I came to during my research. We have a strong fascination with robots that borders on paranoia, we are sprinting head first into the technology to make them as sophisticated as possible to better our lives, but imagine the worst case scenario of the future we are heading to. Robots as the “Big Bad” is an easy trope to buy into, as it so easily plays on what we are already thinking.
Films and TV shows have been a great way for us to pose an idea or notion of the future, or even a parallel present, though they might not always be scientifically accurate or possible, they do still have their role in the future of robots we are heading towards. These ideas and notions will shape what robots in our society will actually be like, and also educate us in how we feel about them. Why do we imagine human replacements like synths, is it because we seek to rid ourselves of human imperfections? Why do we think robots will take all our jobs, because they can do them more efficiently?
All these fictional depictions feed into our apprehension of giving robots artificial intelligence or greater autonomy in their decision making processes. When you compare most depictions of robots-and though not technically robots and under my purview, anything inhuman but still classifiable within the Uncanny Valley- most are depicted as malice and anti-humans. When, as I learnt through my research, real life robots have really done very little to warrant this fictional hatred. Just as I’m sure, people once feared radios or televisions, we will eventually adjust to a changing reality and the role technologies have within it. I plan to do an entire podcast devoted to Uncanny Valley, as it was a very interesting contribution to why we fear robots, most likely through examining the Synths of Humans (2015), a remake of Being Human (2012).
I have plotted to make 10 podcasts all together, each one I focus on a particular concept I have picked from fear of robots, and then applying them to a robot in film or tv to further draw on the topic. My second podcast, will explore the rebelling creators face from their creations, what will really classify as human in these future worlds when something so sophisticated as a Replicant can be just as human as its maker, if not more for understanding the fragility and treasure of existence and wanting more time.
Our major concern for the future of robots and AI, are robots becoming crappy because its creators, us fickle humans, are crappy. Like accidentally swearing in front of your 1 year old and it’s first word being #$%&, we worry about passing on our least favourable qualities to our creations. The last thing anyone wants is a robot with anxiety or a god complex.
In order to exist, they need to be safe for humans and not a threat to us, and give them the qualities that won’t bring about the robopocalypse. We need to give them ethics.
“What happens, when these robots are forced into making ethical decisions….
…a robot left in an impossible double blind, how could it possibly equip an automated intelligence to cope with this type of complexity?” “Can Robots Be Ethical”
Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens, ABC Radio
Robots in our workforce is nothing new, industrial robots have been at the forefront of assembly lines for years now- automotive being the most common. Robots in engineering and construction, robots in medicine, a robot is the jack of all trades! We are starting to see a huge increase in robots, and robots + AI, as key componments in the technological industry and the global economy.
We are entering a period of change and upgrading the way our work industry operates, and it is not a one, way flowing stream. Mercendes Benz is removing robots and introducing more people in their production lines to “save money and safeguard our future.” Drones replacing crewed aircraft, robotic submarines replacing the need for 20 men crew and oxygen. “Soft-robotic rovers” by NASA to go exploring the solar system where no man could ever go. Even proposed autonomous greenhouses and fisheries, that will cultivate and grow our food without us even having to be there to pilot the barge. There are many, many more, some removing us from the occupation, some putting us back in, others entering a domain we couldn’t even go!
The growing concern, is seeing one possible implication of introducing more and more robots to do jobs for us, they will replace us. Perhaps not a large percentage, but enough to worry those in that area. What is the need for concierge or butlers, when Robo-Butler will bring you your food right to your door and eliminate the need to awkward small talk? (On the plus side one has no need to tip a Botler). Though Botler seems to have a handle on this, perhaps it’s counterpart waiters need a few tips in basic customer service. I suppose we won’t need Uber or Taxi’s anymore, now that there will be self-driving cars around every corner. George RR Martin won’t have to worry about finishing A Song Of Ice and Fire, this robot can probably do it for him.
We often see conversation of these robots replacing humans in the ‘dirty’ work we don’t want to undertake for ourselves, and immediately see it at as a threat to those in those markets, from journalist to marine farmer to uber driver. We are concerned, because a lot will change. It wise to keep in mind, nothing will happen overnight. We won’t wake up and suddenly your local barista will be a robot or your hairdresser a synthetic human. Revolutions aren’t instantaneous, and like I said, robots in workforces are already quite commonplace. It seems more likely of a shift, not a removal of the human in the workplace. Instead of the mechanic fixing the machine, the mechanic will fix the robot when it breaks. There will be more of a similar style like Mercedes Benz in robots and humans working harmoniously, increasing productivity off one another.
Unfortunately, it won’t likely be the case of Wall-E where robots do everything for us, despite robot’s proven repertoire humans will still be a part of this future. Even with robots in the ‘dirty’ workforce, it is the utopic-view that it will free up humanity for more productive and creative endevours.
Like watching Cat Videos on Youtube for 3 hours straight.
The very foundation of robotics and their ethical operations with humans were founded on the three Laws of Robotics, set forth and carved into stone by the wise and trusted Isaac Asimov. They were simple enough, and I thought it was imperative to touch on them in my research. These are the codes of conduct all robots must pass in order to validate their existence and enact their function. Unfortunately, some don’t follow the code. Including humans.
I did a lot of reading on robotics and human interactions these last few weeks. Looking for case studies where robots were not the antagonists, but humans were. I sought for examples and evidence where humans were the ones breaking the Robot Laws. The same basic guidelines of do no harm and protect should apply to creator and created, should it not?
A very invaluable article, passed along from fellow blogger whom I shall edit his name into this paragraph once I remember, by Lee McCauley, compared Asimov’s Laws to the parable of Frankenstein and his monster. The Laws were Asimov’s way to dissipate public fear, but were unable to fully address our paranoia of independent, uncontrollable AI’s or humanoids. From the golum to Frankenstein, we fear that the creation once free of the creator will revolt in retribution, and so we revolt before it gets the chance.
I admit. I hated furbies too, they were incessantly creepy, and demonic….but did not deserve our hatred. Too long and too often were they thrown into microwaves or down stairs, thrown into the bottom of the toy box until their eyes malfunction and die. They did nothing to earn their hatred, despite their devilish appearances- but suffered at the hands of humans. Furbies were made to make young humans happy, with a little furry animal that was made for companionship. Furbie never raised a hand to the helpess human, their creator even debated the definition of existence in terms of the Furbie.
We feel we can justify it because they aren’t alive, thus it isn’t abuse. But is ‘alive’ a measure of existence, or of sentience? If it’s level of sentience is the same as a human, do they not deserve “the same protections offered to humans by the legal system”? (Duncan Trusell via Inverse) How do we justify the torture of robots?
The tragic tale of HitchBOT, that was built to rely on human kindness, travelled with us for 26 days across Canada and Germany, met its end in Philadelphia. The culprits remain faceless, but a reminder of how we so flauntingly break Asimov’s First Law. A Robot may do no harm onto us, but we shall onto it. HitchBOT was a “social robotics experiment” that it did not fail, we failed it (Madrigal, A 2014).
Here it came back to the Frankenstein Complex. The moment we come to hate our creations and our creations hate us.
Humans is a UK mini-series from last year I am planning to watch/study as part of this research project. It is like many other scifi shows on robots, with ‘synths’ the latest must have gadget in our homes. The focus-family represent the major viewpoints on human-like androids, the teenager who seems them as ‘slaves’, the embracing technological father, the apprehensive and paranoid mother, and the naive child who sees a new playmate. A faction of these synths however, have developed personality- and very big no-no because it shall mean, they are no longer bound to obey our orders. They even touched on Asimov’s laws, and showed almost immediately how easily they can come undone when the Synth was distracted, and burnt the mother’s arm. The Synth, Anita, obeyed all her commands, but cracks could already become apparent as she showed signs of free will and interpretation of her orders. We fear the same happening in reality, anything outside of out control, or that threatens our own humanity with its own is seen as a danger.
As we learnt from the tragic result of furbies, and HitchBOT, robots cannot protect themselves from the violence of humanity.
ATLAS was an ambitious endeavour for Boston Dynamics, a robot that could remarkably balance itself like a human, or like a human toddler. When it was tasked with picking up a box, it was met with human conflict….and a hockey stick. Atlas could not very well karate-self defence himself back, all it could do was try and complete its task, its primary function. It could not protect itself. The final clip of the video is what i assume the robot finally standing up to its bullies and venturing off to find some safer haven.
I even came across a website to advocate the abuse against robots to stop, with many videos and text for evidence of the crimes against Robotics. A website like this would make for an interesting digital artefact, or something similar.
With the end goal on making robots as human as possible, robot abuse becomes a tricky situation. It’s fine attacking a simple, evil Furbie, but when it has human facial expressions, a human voice, is it still okay to hurt them? When they are as human as possible, would it be human assault? We in no way accept shooting a fellow citizen, yet there becomes the distinction that it is okay to kill a synth or such.
I am a big fan of shows and movies involving futuristic-tech. Another notably recent show worth mention is Extant, an alien drama that included a subplot of a child-humanoid named Ethan.
It captures that same fascination Back To The Future II gave many of us. Like the Hanson Robotic invention Sophia I mentioned in my last post, we are not that far off the fantastical inventions we glimpse at through popular culture. Smartphones became inevitable, and so are robots becoming their own entities designed to make our lives easier.
Next post I am going to research more on the paranoia’s society holds for when/if the robots become more intergral into our lives. There is the threat of job loss, as manual labour becomes ‘robotic’ labour, and the issue of privacy. Synths and androids are simply computers, that would be living in our homes and can record just as much information as a simple, hidden webcam.
Automatonophobia is the fear of anything that falsely represents having sentience, the autonomy to act out of human control. Typical humans, afraid of what they can’t control or manipulate.
A common theme of cyberculture, and a running trope in media & film, is the fear and demonisation of robots. More so are we fearing the robots, but what they are capable of, and will be capable of the farther technology advances. It’s seen time and time again, from Ultron to Ava, that we create these fictional stories of doomed robots and their flawed understanding of humanity (a reflection on our own humanity they tell us), will ultimately doom us.
Robotics have come a long way in a very short amount of time, and companies like Hanson Robotics have their eyes firmly set on creating lifelike, animatronic-androids designed solely for human interaction. To be more human than human. Sophia, is the real-life Ava of Ex Machina. Creator Dr David Hanson’s goal is to make robots “as conscious, creative and capable as any human” and eventually, to one day “be indistinguishable from humans”. He envisions a world of robots not dehumanising us, but reminding us of our humanity.
But more on that later, essentially, I wish to say, robots are not evil. They are not Ultron because they were programmed by Tony Stark’s (our) flaws and faults. They do not become Ava because their intelligence is so far more superior that it uses our own humanity against us. They are what we make them to be. Cyberculture, society, or whoever, needs something to fear that we think is threatening what makes us human.
What I will be talking about instead, is the path of robotics or humanbotics and where its heading. Starting with the history of robots and how we came to fear them, I wish to track through media the villain label we have come to attach to robots and offer a more friendlier take on robots and us. How many innocent robots have succumbed to human hands in films and television? How do the news and internet react to the human like animatronics? Do we really even need to fear the power of robots? Will they actually take over the world?
Nobody puts Robot in the corner.
"Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data." Neuromancer (@GreatDismal) .