This very intriguing, and in its way, disturbing article was brought to my attention by a member of this website (Mr. S.), and it brings to the fore, once again, the deep need for a profound philosophical and cultural discussion on humanity, science, and the future of both:
What intrigues here are not the implicit scientific and philosophical assumptions of the article - is this behavior merely mimickry by dint of a programming wizardry? Or is it a genuine robotic response to input from a mirror, a response in which it "recognizes 'itself'"? - but rather, the cultural and sociological ones, for it is to be noted that the article is couched in transhumanist fashion in terms of a widespread human and robotical interaction in society sometime in the future.
In doing so, the authors have implied the idea that robots will simply skip the "Asimov Three Laws of Robotics" phase and move directly to "Sonny," the robot that "woke up" and became self-aware. I freely confess, that as a boy, I was happily reading not only the concept-and-esoteric-lore rich comics of Uncle Scrooge(and if you don't believe me, check out Uncles Scrooge and the Fabulous Philosopher's Stone, or King Scrooge the First for some truly alchemical themes, complete with International Monetary Fund and genetic memory), but also reading the Foundation and "robot" novels of Isaac Asimov. For those who don't recall what Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics were, here they are:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
But these laws are present in the robots by dint of the programming built into them. "Sonny," of course, "wakes up" and becomes self aware in a fully human sense, and this seems to be what the authors of the article envision for the future.
What then, would be the society we wish to have? What will its laws and protections be? Asimov was trying, through the genius of his fiction, to stir this debate, for he saw what was coming, decades ago. Even further back still, the great madman of 19th century and early 2oth century science, Nikola Tesla, foresaw the global "brain" of a kind of internet, and this too became part of that transhumanist future Asimov tried to warn us about, as it was not only "Sonny" that "woke up", but Vicki, the great central computer coordinating all robots. Already computers perform billions of dollars worth of stock and currency trades via pre-programed algorithms, and thus have an influence over human affairs that is unprecedented in history as the 1987 stock market crash pointed out. What if they, or ever the Internet itself, somehow wakes up?
These are all questions that need to be pondered, and in my opinion, need to be pondered sooner rather than later, for we can bet our increasingly devalued facsimile of money Federal Reserve note (or, if one prefers, sterling or euro), that DARPA and Rand and the like are already gaming out the scenarios, and probably not toward the benefit of humanity.
See you on the flip side...