Here Thar Be Monsters!

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A Rose By Another Name

You probably recall Steven Spielberg's "AI: Artificial Intelligence."  It was set to be a collaboration between Spielberg and the industry giant Stanley Kubrick.  They had worked together on the script and Kubrick had piles of notes on the project found after his death.

What emerged from Spielberg's clap-trap factory was a pale shadow of the original project.  Kubrick had intended a profound and disturbing look at how androids would affect the interpersonal relationships between real humans, from childhood to adulthood and ever aspect of that developmental cycle.

The child bot, David, was supposed to show us how humans would devolve into empty, animistic creatures, devoid of empathy and compassion.  It would be as easy for us to dispose of each other as it would to throw away a bucket of gears and software.

The scenes where David is abandoned, winds up in a "flesh fair," then sees the seedy side of life in Rouge City, all in his quest to find his own "humanity."  The film was intended, as were all of Kubrick's works, to operate on multiple levels at once.  We were supposed to see the world we were creating, but also the one we have created.  It was intended as a warning, and as an exposé.  At it's core, it was supposed to show us how Hollywood eats child stars for lunch.

What Spielberg delivered was a candy-coated high-tech Pinocchio story with glimmers of the Kubrick genesis inside, but nothing of the deeply disturbing message that Kubrick would have delivered.

Now, we come to this article from RT: Rise of the Love Machines?  In the article, a Professor Noel Sharkey questions the wisdom of sex bots and theorizes that humans will begin to loose the ability to form relationships, instead transferring those feelings to mechanical surrogates.  The good professor focuses on human sexuality and bonding, but I see no reason to stop there.

The rise of robots will, and I am emphatic here, no longer be able to treat each other with civility and caring, and we have seen this trend since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.  The ability to mass-produce things, while at once seemingly miraculous, is also a deep and deadly trap for Humanity.  Seeing shelves full of identical products, the value of any individual things drops precipitously.

Take, for instance, a simple doll.  Once upon a time, girls made their dolls by hand, out of scraps of cloth and found items.  It was both a way to create a toy, and to learn skills they would need, such as sewing (I am not being sexist here, just observing).  Having only enough materials to make one or two, the child would highly treasure that toy, perhaps even keeping it for life.  With the dawn of Barbies, though, destroying dolls was no longer an issue, since the stores were stuffed to the rafters with them. If one broke, you could replace it with an identical one almost instantly.  There was no value to that toy - no investment of time and effort.

Now, imagine in the not too distant future you can buy a housemaid.  This mechanical wonder would cook, clean, fetch, and do windows all day every day.  If it broke, you could replace it instantly down at the robot store, perhaps even upgrading while you're at it.  Why not get a housemaid that has sex features, too?  Why, there'd be no need to impress an attractive young woman, wine and dine her, develop a deeper relationship over many years, raise a family together.  No need at all.

And how do you think you would begin to treat other humans?  After all, you can yell and curse and even beat the machine, and the behavior becomes self-reinforcing because there are no consequences - no police at the door, no charges, no lengthy and expensive divorce - just life going on the same as before without so much as a peep of complaint.

Since you don't develop any inhibitions for these kinds of behaviors, they become "normal" and "natural" responses to certain triggers.  Because your mechanical maid looks so human, you no longer distinguish between real and machine.  After two or three generations, why real humans may even become an annoyance, since they have feelings and response negatively to certain behaviors that you now find natural.

How would you treat your fellow humans if your "normal" response was to dispose of or reprogram something that looked and acted "human," but perhaps had a slight flaw you didn't quite like?  How would you react to humans when your trained impulse is to upgrade when you noticed irritating behaviors?

As the RT article points out, how would people react when their first sexual experiences are with machines?  Would the normal bonding processes be short-circuited?  They are already approaching that abyss now with all the various sex toys and online outlets available.  Suppose all of that were replaced with a machine that seemed, for all intents and purposes, real?  Yet, could be upgraded, reprogrammed and never once complained about any of our own shortcomings?

Finally, and I find this hard to imagine, but - suppose we actually achieve a sentient machine?  Imagine our own gods and their creation?  Humanity has changed gods like dirty socks throughout its history.  Will we soon be doing the same with ours?  And at what point will these sentient creations grow tired of our indifference and toss us into the laundry hamper?

The problem I have with the current state of technology is that we are rushing headlong into situations for which we are hardly prepared.  We have not yet learned to be civil to each other (see tomorrow's column), yet we now feel empowered to become gods?

Despite centuries of philosophical debate and thought, humans are hardly further long ethically and morally than we were a million years ago.  I daresay we are worse now than in eras past.  We have lost sight of values and things that used to be life-long investments are now things we toss at the first sign of displeasure.  Our lives have become mass-market nightmares that, on the surface, seem so easy and comfortable, until you scratch and sniff the underbelly of our society.

In our rush to make everything always perfect and enjoyable, we are quickly approaching the point where even other people have achieved the "replaceable" status.  Anything that inconveniences us and causes us to lose valuable play time is tossed and replaced with a "new and improved" model.

Robots, and all our other gee-gaws, are symptoms of very deep problems in our civilization.  We find it easier to avoid difficult situations by replacing the perceived cause, rather than addressing the deep problems within our psyches.  Sure, we can marvel at our ingenuity, but what have we really achieved?

Ugh!  Windows keeps crashing.  I need to toss this old pile of parts and get a shiny new laptop, because it's not my settings, its the blinky lights and whirlly-gigs.

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